EAA absorbs turnaround money for DPS
By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — After a drawn-out application process that included expansive turnaround plans, 18 Detroit public schools qualified for a total of $72 million in federal Student Improvement Grants (SIG) funds — $15 million in 2010 and $57 million in 2011.
Those funds were to be allocated by the Michigan Department of Education over three years; nine of those schools have now been forcibly transferred to the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) by Roy Roberts, chairman of the EAA and emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS).
It is unclear how much of that money remains unspent, or if the EAA will have to reapply for the funding.
Michigan State Board of Education member Marianne Yared McGuire says there must be a strict account of how much of the SIG funds are leaving the district to support the EAA, which operates with no public accountability or fiscal transparency.
“If we’re putting all this money into a separate district, if their goal is trying to help students, why couldn’t we keep it in DPS?” McGuire, a former DPS teacher, says. “We’re losing our public schools and that’s the basis of any democracy. Without them, we go back to when it was education just for the elite.”
McGuire says she was told that “for optimum affect,” teachers and principals should stay with the SIG schools and students for the three-year term of the allocation.
Mary T. Wood has followed public spending in the charter and public school systems in Michigan for 15 years. She says the transfer of schools in DPS, along with their remaining SIG funds to the EAA, is premature and the resources should stay in DPS, based on the original terms guiding the allocation.
“In the case of Detroit, they didn’t even give the kids a chance to see if they could complete the turnaround plan,” Wood says. “Then they rolled out the red carpet for the EAA to go in and clean house.”
Encouraged by federal guidelines, Michigan legislators have drastically accelerated education reform in Michigan over the past three years.
State policymakers, in an effort to qualify for President Barack Obama’s Race To The Top program, drastically revised the Michigan School Code in 2010 to institute turnaround plans for the state’s lowest-performing schools — about 5 percent — and, ultimately, create a new statewide district if the turnaround was unsuccessful.
The State School Reform/Redesign Office, headed by Deborah Clemmons, later transferred its authority to create a reform school district to the EAA through a 17-page contract.
The U.S. Department of Education denied Michigan’s request for $400 million in Race To the Top funding but later granted Michigan schools a total of $200 million in SIG dollars for low-performing schools.
Those schools were required to submit a detailed turnaround plan, based on one of four intervention models, in order to qualify for SIG funds.
Jan Ellis, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education, responded to questions regarding SIG funds and EAA schools in a July 18 e-mail. Ellis says DPS schools receiving SIG funding will continue to receive monies if they implement the approved plan or submit an amendment to the plan that is consistent with the design and structure of the originally approved plan.
“The EAA structure is a state program; and all decisions to place schools in the EAA are made by the Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and his team,” Ellis writes. “The federal grant requirements do not account for specific state mandates, such as this.”
Former Southwestern Principal Stefana Romanov says SIG funds, used for teacher training and summer programs, were withheld by the Michigan State Department of Education in June 2011.
Southwestern High School was slated to receive $3 million in SIG over three years starting in 2012. But the school was closed permanently by Roberts this year.
MDE’s Ellis says funds that were unused by schools closed by Roberts remain in the overall state allocations for SIG funded schools and can be distributed to other SIG funded schools.
It is unclear what schools will receive those additional funds.
McGuire and Wood recently spent the day driving to EAA schools and surveying the condition of the buildings. They came to, what McGuire says, is an interesting conclusion — all but two of the schools chosen for the EAA are either housed in newer buildings or SIG schools.
The last two, Stewart Elementary and Trix Elementary, will be converted into charter schools, along with SIG school Murphy Elementary.
And if the EAA is a launching pad for the continued influx of charter schools in Detroit, the infusion of federal funds amounts to a bait and switch scheme carried out with no public input or transparency, according to McGuire.
“As far as I’m concerned, this whole EAA thing is a pass-through,” McGuire told the Michigan Citizen. “These schools will come out on the other side as charters.”
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents southwest Detroit, says she was told SIG money would follow Southwestern students, adding that many Southwestern parents have still not received official letters from DPS notifying them as to where their children should report in September.
Roberts previously announced that Southwestern students would be sent to either Western High School or Northwestern High School.
The U.S. Department of Education did not respond to inquiries regarding unspent SIG funds by press time.
Calls to the EAA and DPS were not returned.
Contact Eric T. Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org