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Changing the rules

Michigan school administrators are keeping a wary eye on legislators in Lansing, where momentum is building to change the way top educators are hired and fired.

A Senate bill would bar superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders from joining unions or collectively negotiating their contracts.

It would also remove some current protections, such as required 90-day notices telling administrators that their contracts won't be renewed.

The legislation, which is slated to be voted on this week, arose out of a request by David Adamany, the chief executive officer of the Detroit district, for more flexibility in deciding who runs schools in the 174,000-student system he oversees.

In testimony to the Senate education committee last month, Mr. Adamany said the fact that virtually every school employee there is unionized undercuts management accountability.

"We don't have any administrators outside of the union who can make evaluations," he told the education panel.

In exchange for more flexible hiring and firing policies, he wants to give principals a freer hand to set budgets, try new academic programs, and pick their staffs.

But the Republican-majority panel went beyond Mr. Adamany's request to bar administrators from collective bargaining. The panel also voted 3-2 along party lines Sept. 29 to remove some due-process rights for administrators that are now included in the state education code.

That portion of the code is likely to be restored in final debate, however. Still, the whole idea of changing current policy has rankled administrator groups.

"No other district in the state has complained about this," said Jim Ballard, the executive director of the Michigan Association of High School Principals. Fewer than 10 percent of the state's 2,800 middle and high school principals are in unions, he noted.

He pledged that his group would make sure that each principal becomes a savvy negotiator if the rules do change.

"We're saying that, at that time, here's what your contract should look like," Mr. Ballard added. "Don't sell yourself short."

--Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 19, Issue 7, Pages 20-22

Published in Print: October 13, 1999, as State Journal
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