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Battle for the bodies

EAA and DPS vie for Detroit students

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT—The low-performing, state-created Education Achievement Authority and Detroit Public Schools are competing for Detroit’s children. Each district’s need for enrollment surfaced in a recent exchange of letters and automated calls to parents.

It’s a “battle for the bodies,” says Tom Pedroni, assistant professor of curriculum studies at Wayne State University. Each district’s funding is dependent on enrollment numbers. EAA enrollment had fallen by 18 percent and in some schools as much as 46 percent according to the October official count, Pedroni says. In October, EAA reported a 24 percent drop in enrollment. No one from EAA responded by press time to explain the discrepancy.

Jack Martin

Jack Martin

In an apparent effort to boost DPS enrollment figures, which fell short of EM Jack Martin’s projections, DPS Supt. Karen Ridgeway sent a winter assignment letter to EAA parents telling them to enroll their children in DPS for second semester which began Jan. 21. Then on Jan. 19, Ridgeway reversed herself.

Two days before second semester started, she sent a letter to DPS school principals with the heading, “Confirmation of Assignment Letters Sent in Error.”

In the letter, Ridgeway says the letter to EAA parents was sent in error, and to correct her mistake, gives the principals four instructions:

– Ask all parents of second semester enrollees what was the last school they attended;

– If the student was EAA, ask why they want to enroll in your school;

– If the parent says they received the assignment letter from DPS, advise the parent the assignment letter was sent in error and they are to return to the EAA school;

– Fill out a form daily that provides names of students enrolling, which EAA school they attended, how was the parent advised to come to DPS, and state where the student enrolled finally.

“(They’re really saying) our children are slaves, parents don’t have a choice while everybody else does,” said education advocate Helen Moore, founder of Keep the Vote No Takeover, who made the enrollment letters available to the Michigan Citizen.

John Covington

John Covington

Moore provided a copy of an agreement between DPS EM Jack Martin and EAA Chancellor J. William Covington also dated Jan. 19. In the agreement, Martin agreed to take steps to notify parents to disregard the earlier assignment letter, to ask by letter and phone calls that parents return their children to EAA, place notices of such on the DPS website and to tell students from EAA who report to DPS “they should report to their previously assigned EAA school.”

In the Jan. 19 agreement, both districts agreed to “refrain from any unethical recruitment practices.” Unethical translates to not being on each other’s property for recruitment purposes; not disrupting programs or special events to distribute recruitment literature or make sales pitches to parents.

Moore, with others, has worked on a campaign to convince EAA parents to return to DPS because, she says, the state experimental district is a failure. It has not been measured by the same standardized tests other Michigan students must take and puts students in front of computers all day under Teach for America college graduates instead of professional teachers, she says

Michigan legislators have also refused to expand the EAA district despite continuing efforts of the Snyder administration to extend the EAA across the state. To date, the EAA only includes Detroit children and Detroit school buildings.

EAA needs more students enrolled in their experimental district to survive. In their first year of operation, the EAA had to use DPS borrowing authority to get a $12 million loan to continue through the school year.

Now, with 1,483 fewer students enrolled than they had last year, the EAA lease agreements for the DPS buildings are technically in jeopardy. According to the leases, EAA must have a minimum of 350 students in any elementary school and 750 students in any of its high schools.

As of the October count, six EAA schools do not meet the minimum enrollment requirements set out in the lease agreements. They are elementary school Phoenix Multicultural Academy (303 pupils) and five high schools: Southeastern (403), Denby (739), Pershing High (526), Henry Ford (558) and Central Collegiate Academy (466).

The EAA is Gov. Rick Snyder’s school reform experiment created by an interlocal agreement signed in 2011 by then DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents. Classes began fall of 2012. Roberts gave 15 DPS buildings and their contents to the startup district. Many of the buildings were new or newly refurbished with bond money Detroit taxpayers will continue to repay for the next 20 years.

The DPS elected board —  lacking power under emergency management —  has voted often to nullify the interlocal agreement and take back the EAA schools. Washtenaw County  school districts are refusing to accept Eastern Michigan University student teachers to protest the EAA.

Ridgeway did not reply to this story by press time, nor had DPS spokesperson Steve Wasko.


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