Michigan Department of Education






In the matter of:         Appeal by Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools of the

Fall 2016 Pupil Membership Count

Docket No. MA 17-3


Iosco Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) conducted an audit of the fall 2016 pupil membership count of Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools (Whittemore-Prescott).  As a result of the audit, 17.34 FTEs were deducted from Whittemore-Prescott’s fall 2016 pupil membership count.

On April 25, 2017, Whittemore-Prescott filed a first level appeal with Naomi Casher, assistant director of the Office of Financial Management of the Michigan Department of Education (Department).  On July 24, 2017, Ms. Casher denied the appeal.  On August 10, 2017, Whittemore-Prescott requested final agency review. 

Whittemore-Prescott chose to present its appeal at a review conference rather than entirely in writing.  A review conference was convened at the Department on October 25, 2017.  Present at the review conference were Robert Taylor, designee of the Superintendent of Public Instruction; Ms. Casher; Leah Breen, director of the Department’s Office of Professional Preparation Services (OPPS); Phil Chase, director of the OPPS Professional Accountability Unit; Travis Comstock, assistant attorney general representing Ms. Casher and Ms. Breen; Joseph J. Perrera, Whittemore-Prescott superintendent; Andrea Sobesiak, Whittemore-Prescott teacher; Robert G. Huber, Piotr M. Matusiak, and Jessica Baker of Thrun Law Firm, P.C., representing Whittemore-Prescott; and Mary Fielding, a Department administrative law specialist.  The review conference was consolidated with the review conference requested by Whittemore-Prescott in Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools (CP 17-7), a certification penalty appeal arising out of the same circumstances upon which the FTE deduction in this case was based.[1]


Consideration of this appeal is guided by several well-established principles.  First, it is the Department’s responsibility to administer the distribution of state school aid funds in full compliance with all applicable statutes and administrative rules and to ensure that they are applied uniformly to all school districts.  Ithaca Public Schools (MA 16-1); Delton Kellogg Schools (MA 12-4); Galien Township School District (MA 12-1); McBain Rural Agricultural School (MA 11-1); Port Huron Area School District (MA 10-1); Parchment School District (MA 08-1).  In addition, the Legislature has expressly mandated that districts comply with the requirements established in the pupil accounting manual approved by the Department and that, if a district fails to do so, the Department must withhold state school aid.  MCL 388.1618(4)(d) and (10).  Thus, the Department’s responsibilities include the uniform application of the pupil accounting manual and the administration of state school aid funds in full compliance with it.  Ithaca, supra; Galien Township, supra; McBain, supra.

A district claiming eligibility for state school aid is obligated to demonstrate satisfaction of all legal requirements to establish such eligibility.  Ithaca, supra; Delton Kellogg, supra; Life Skills Center of Pontiac (MA 12-2); Galien Township, supra; McBain, supra; Port Huron, supra; Parchment, supra; L’Anse Creuse Schools (MA 00-1); Hamtramck Public Schools (MA 94-1); Bendle Schools (MA 93-2); Coopersville Area Public Schools (MA 92-10).  Applicable legal requirements are determined based on the law in effect when the pupil membership count at issue occurred.  See MCL 388.1615(3) (deductions shall be calculated according to law in effect in fiscal year in which incorrect amount was paid).  Absent statutory authority, the Department, which is subject to monitoring by the Auditor General, has no equitable authority to deviate from those legal requirements.[2]  Ithaca, supra; McBain, supra; Port Huron, supra; Westwood Community School District (MA 01-3); Beacon International Academy (MA 01-1); Lansing School District (MA 91-9); Orchard View Schools (MA 90-2).

In general, individuals employed as teachers by school districts must hold certification that is valid for the assignment.  MCL 380.1231(3); Mich Admin Code, R 390.1105(1).  For purposes of state school aid, pupils must be in attendance and receiving instruction in all classes in which they are enrolled on the pupil membership count day or the supplemental count day, with “class” being defined as a period of time when pupils and a certified teacher or legally qualified substitute teacher are together and instruction is taking place.  MCL 388.1606(4) and (8).  These requirements were set forth in section 3 of the pupil accounting manual in effect at the time of the fall 2016 pupil membership count. 

        This appeal presents a dispute related to MCL 380.1535, which was added to the Revised School Code effective July 18, 1983.  The statute, which has never been amended, provides in its entirety as follows.

For purposes of endorsement or recertification, a teacher shall be considered certificated and the holder of a valid teacher's certificate on the completion date of the requirements of a teacher education college, as defined by the college catalog of courses, until such time as the certification is confirmed or rejected by the state board of education.


        The deduction of FTEs from Whittemore-Prescott’s fall 2016 pupil membership count was based on the district’s employment of Andrea Sobiesiak on the pupil membership count day.  The disputed 17.34 FTEs were claimed by Whittemore-Prescott for the 102 pupils who were taught by Ms. Sobiesiak on that day.   Both the RESA auditor and Ms. Casher determined that Ms. Sobiesiak was not certificated on the count day, as required by MCL 388.1606(8).  Whittemore-Prescott argues that, under MCL 380.1535, Ms. Sobiesiak was considered certificated and the holder of a valid teaching certificate on the count day.  The relevant facts are as follows.

The Department issued a provisional teaching certificate to Ms. Sobiesiak on June 18, 2007, with endorsements to teach physical education and mathematics in grades 6 to 12.  After being employed for a short time as a teacher in Bay City Public Schools, she moved to North Carolina, where she was a public high school mathematics teacher from August 2007 to July 2016.  She obtained a North Carolina teaching certificate during the 2007-2008 school year.  Her Michigan provisional teaching certificate expired on June 30, 2013.  In August 2014, she enrolled in a master’s degree program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  She earned her master’s degree in education with a concentration in middle/secondary mathematics on August 5, 2016.

Ms. Sobiesiak moved back to Michigan and, on September 6, 2016, she began an assignment in Whittemore-Prescott teaching seventh grade pre-algebra and eighth grade computers.  On September 29, 2016, she submitted an application for renewal of her provisional teaching certificate to the Michigan Online Educator Certification System (MOECS).  On the same day, she received two emails from MOECS, one telling her that her application had been successfully submitted but that the application could not be reviewed until OPPS received the official transcripts from all colleges or universities she had attended.  Instructions for sending the documents were included in the email.  The other email informed Ms. Sobiesiak that her application for renewal of her provisional teaching certificate had been submitted to OPPS and it instructed her how to pay the $100 application processing fee.  The email informed her that her application would not be evaluated until her fee payment, which was described as a nonrefundable application evaluation fee, was received by the Department.[3] 

On September 30, 2016, Ms. Sobiesiak requested that the University of North Carolina at Greensboro send her transcript to her.  She asserts that she received the transcript and that her father mailed it to the Department in October 2016.  There was no documentary or other support for this assertion by Ms. Sobiesiak and the Department has no record of having received the transcripts at that time. 

Ms. Sobiesiak submitted the statutorily required $100.00 application fee to the Department on December 19, 2016.  She requested her University of North Carolina at Greensboro transcripts again on March 10, 2017.  The Department received the transcripts on March 14, 2017, and, on the same day, issued a renewed provisional teaching certificate to her.  The certificate will expire on June 30, 2020.[4]

Whittemore-Prescott argues that, notwithstanding the fact that, from September 6, 2016, to March 14, 2017, Ms. Sobiesiak did not hold a valid Michigan teaching certificate issued by the Department, she was considered to be certificated and the holder of a valid teaching certificate under MCL 380.1535 between August 5, 2016, the date she completed the requirements of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro master’s program, and March 14, 2017, the date the Department issued her renewed certificate. 

By its express terms, MCL 380.1535 applies for the limited purposes of endorsement and recertification.  Because Ms. Sobiesiak held an expired Michigan teaching certificate when she completed the requirements of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro program, and because renewal of that certificate would have constituted recertification, she came within the “for purposes of endorsement or recertification” limitation of the statute.  The statute further provides, however, that a described individual shall be considered certificated and the holder of a valid teaching certificate “until such time as the certification is confirmed or rejected by the state board of education.”[5]  This language has been considered by the Court of Appeals and by the State Tenure Commission.

In Cantu v Board of Education of Grand Rapids Public Schools, 186 Mich App 488 (1990), the Court of Appeals affirmed a circuit court decision that upheld a decision of the State Tenure Commission[6] that it did not have jurisdiction to review the appellant’s discharge because she did not hold a teaching certificate (and she was therefore not a “teacher” for purposes of the Teachers’ Tenure Act) when she was discharged on August 24, 1987, or when she filed a claim of appeal with the Commission on September 23, 1987.  In that case, the teacher’s certificate expired on June 30, 1987, but she did not apply for recertification until November 1, 1987.  Rejecting Ms. Cantu’s argument that she came within the protection of MCL 380.1535, the State Tenure Commission recognized that MCL 380.1535 was enacted to remedy the dilemma faced by teachers when there is a delay in the processing of their certificates.[7]  Finding that it was Ms. Cantu’s responsibility to apply for recertification, the State Tenure Commission granted summary relief to Grand Rapids Public Schools related to its August 24, 1987 action, which preceded her recertification application by over two months.  Addressing the State Tenure Commission’s interpretation of MCL 380.1535, the Court of Appeals stated in Cantu, “We also agree with the commission and the circuit court that petitioner was not entitled to the protection of MCL 380.1535; MSA 15.41535, because her certification was not delayed by the board of education.”  186 Mich App at 491.  See also Reyner v Board of Education of the Waverly Community Schools (State Tenure Commission Case No. 85-17), aff’d unpublished per curiam opinion of Court of Appeals (Docket No. 102795, issued March 30, 1989), lv den 434 Mich 908 (1990) (MCL 380.1535 was enacted to protect the certificated status of individuals for whom issuance of certificates is delayed due to the processing of paperwork).

In this case, Whittemore-Prescott agrees that, as the State Tenure Commission observed in Cantu, MCL 380.1535 was enacted in response to the Commission’s holding in Suckley v Board of Education of the Warren Woods Public Schools (81-38) (Decision and order, appellee’s motion for summary and/or accelerated judgment, issued March 19, 1982).  In that case, the Commission held that, notwithstanding delays at both Oakland University and the Department in the processing of an additional endorsement on Patricia Stuckey’s teaching certificate, the fact that she did not have possession of the endorsed certificate at the time in question was fatal to her claim under the Teachers’ Tenure Act.

When construing statutory language, it is important to be mindful not to abandon common sense or to support an interpretation that would lead to an absurd result at odds with legislative intent.  Ionia Public Schools v Ionia Education Association, 311 Mich App 479, 488 (2015); TES Filer City Station L.P. v Michigan Public Service Commission (In re Consumers Energy), 310 Mich App 614, 633 (2015).  I agree with the Court of Appeals and the State Tenure Commission that the purpose of MCL 380.1535 is to provide protection to individuals whose applications for renewal and endorsement are delayed through no fault of their own.  In my judgment, to extend the protection of the statute to the instant facts, where issuance of the renewed certificate was delayed solely because of the applicant’s delay in submitting the required documentation and fee, would lead to absurd results.  Whittemore-Prescott’s interpretation of the statute could extend unlimited protection to individuals who either never apply for renewal of certification or who submit applications for renewal but never submit the fees and documents necessary for the Department to evaluate their applications.  I reject such an interpretation, which removes accountability from applicants and school districts.

The statute refers to the state board’s confirmation or rejection of an application.  I find that the sole reasonable interpretation of the statutory reference to a time when a certificate is “confirmed or rejected” is that it is not operative until the individual completes the application process.  Until that time, there is nothing to be “confirmed or rejected.”

The Suckley case and the enactment of MCL 380.1535 long preceded the implementation in 2011 of the Michigan Online Educator Certification System (MOECS), the web-based system that educators use to apply for certificates, endorsements, and certificate renewals.  That system, by which Ms. Sobiesiak submitted her renewal application on September 29, 2016, provides educators and districts with ready access to information about the status of pending applications.  If Ms. Sobiesiak and Whittemore-Prescott had monitored the progress of her application online, they would have discovered that the reasons for the delay in its processing were not attributable to the Department.  In fact, the Department immediately renewed Ms. Sobiesiak’s certificate when, having previously received the statutory fee, it received all documentation necessary for review of her application.  There was no application processing delay or lack of diligence on the part of the Department that entitled Ms. Sobiesiak to invoke the protection of MCL 380.1535.  Nor was there a showing of any institutional failings of which Ms. Sobiesiak and Whittemore-Prescott were victims.

For these reasons, I find that Ms. Sobiesiak was not certificated during the time in question.  Because Whittemore-Prescott did not satisfy state school aid requirements related to her pupils for purposes of the fall 2016 pupil membership count, the FTE deduction assessed in this case was correct.














Based on my review of this matter and for the above reasons, I deny Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools’ appeal of the first level agency decision of the assistant director of the Office of Financial Management of the Department of Education and I order the following.

The deduction of 17.34 FTEs from Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools’ fall 2016 pupil membership count is affirmed.

This final report and decision is being transmitted to the Department of Education’s Office of Financial Management - State Aid and School Finance for implementation.





Brian J. Whiston

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Dated: March 23, 2018


[1] Pursuant to MCL 388.1763(2), a state school aid penalty was assessed against Whittemore-Prescott in the amount of $15,891.25 for the 185-day period of September 6, 2016, to March 9, 2017.  Whittemore-Prescott (CP 17-7).  I affirmed the assessment of that penalty in a decision issued on January 26, 2018.  The FTE deduction at issue in the instant case is in addition to the penalty assessed under MCL 388.1763(2).

[2] In section 15(2) of the State School Aid Act, MCL 388.1615(2), as amended by 2017 PA 108, effective July 14, 2017, the Legislature granted authority to the Department to waive all or part of state aid adjustments.  Whittemore-Prescott has filed a request for waiver under this subsection.  The request has been forwarded to the Office of Financial Management – State Aid and School Finance.


[3] MCL 380.1538(1)(b)(i) provides that an applicant for renewal of a provisional teaching certificate shall pay $100.00 to the Department for having the application evaluated for conformance with the application requirements.

[4] The certificate is now known as a standard teaching certificate.  Mich Admin Code, R 390.1101(v), as amended effective November 15, 2017.

[5] The responsibilities of the State Board of Education set forth in the statute were transferred to the superintendent of public instruction by Executive Reorganization Order 1996-7, MCL 388.994(1)(tt).


[6] Cantu v Board of Education of the Grand Rapids Public Schools (State Tenure Commission Case No. 87-27) (Decision and order, appellee’s motion for summary disposition, March 11, 1988).


[7] In this regard, the State Tenure Commission adopted the reasoning of an earlier tenure decision, Huff v Board of Education of the Reading Community Schools (State Tenure Commission Case No. 83-24).