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If EAA enrollment falls, EAA may fail

Roy Roberts

Roy Roberts

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Gov. Rick Snyder’s experimental district for failing schools, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), will end if “parents just don’t take your children there,” Helen Moore, school reform activist and founder of Keep the Vote No Takeover, tells groups wherever she goes.

Copies of the lease agreements signed by Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and EAA Chancellor John Covington reveal there is truth — and a strategy — in Moore’s motto.

Without 750 students in each of the five high schools or 350 in each of the 10 elementary schools taken by EAA from DPS, the terms of the 15 leases (one for each school) are open to re-evaluation, the documents read, including termination.

Under terms of the leases, the EAA pays DPS $1 per year per building. Many of the buildings are brand new or with substantial renovations done under the bond issue approved by Detroit voters in 2009. Mumford was a brand new building when Roberts turned it over to the EAA. Detroit taxpayers will continue to pay on the bond for decades.

Rent: $1 a year, $910 a student

One section of the leases refers to “Detroit Resident Student Rent.”  The language says DPS will collect rents annually depending on the number of students enrolled at EAA.

“They’re renting our students,” Lemmons said when told of the clause.

For each DPS student enrolled, EAA pays $910 to DPS. EAA has had a year to pay this part of the rent as the first payment is not due DPS until August 2013.

However, according to the leases, as long as DPS is in deficit, EAA will pay an “annual sum to be agreed upon by the parties no later than 60 days prior to the end of the tenant’s (EAA) fiscal year.” If no amount is agreed upon, the Student Annual Rent figure becomes the price.

In addition, if the EAA makes any improvements, alterations or additions to the DPS property, those costs are to be applied to the rent. This rent credit is limited to no more than 20 percent of the total rent due.

If DPS wants to end a lease agreement with the EAA, DPS will pay a termination fee. If the EAA ceases to operate because a court rules it is illegal, or if state aid is not forthcoming for the EAA, then the leases terminate and the EAA has no liability.

EAA officials did not respond to phone calls for this article.

New Web site to expose EAA

St. Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, reports on the newly created Web site, www.insidetheeaa.com, that “students have flowed out of the EAA since school began.”

She reports that special education enrollment at EAA declined 10 percent and the general population dropped five percent over this school year.

The new Web site is supported by Lipton, Middle Cities Education Association, American Civil Liberties Association of Michigan, Dr. Thomas Pedroni, Ph.D. and others.

Lipton said she has posted on the side the 1,300 documents she obtained from the EAA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and organized the documents by subject to bring transparency to the “secretive state-run organization,” she said.

“My hope is that by making these documents public, Michigan residents will be able to discern fact from propaganda as Republicans push to expand the EAA,” Lipton said.

“The EAA has tried to operate in secrecy, but inside these pages, Michigan parents, teachers and voters can see for themselves how the EAA operates and determine whether it is a real solution for Michigan’s education challenges.”

In the summer of 2012 when the leases were negotiated, Roberts did not consult the elected DPS board, nor were the terms of the leases subject to public review.

In fact, Board President Lamar Lemmons says the deal was probably “illegal.” Roberts was in a conflict of interest on July 1 when the EAA leases became effective. At the time, Roberts was simultaneously chair of the EAA and EM of DPS, Lemmons said.

“He was signing a deal with himself,” Lemmons says.

The Snyder administration is currently working to codify the EAA. It exists now because of a contract between the Board of Regents of Eastern Michigan University and EM Roberts. After legislative approval, the EAA can expand across the state, as Snyder originally announced it would, and qualify for more public funding.

State Senator Bert Johnson says that the way the EAA was created has created problems for Snyder that the governor did not anticipate.

“People do not want to be grouped in with Detroit on any level,” Johnson said of the effort to expand the EAA into other districts.

“It is a failed, illegal system that is not qualified as a school system under the state school code,” Johnson said. “Now all the power of the EAA resides in the governor’s office. Covington doesn’t answer to the State Department of Education or the State Board, only to the governor. That’s illegal. And the governor answers to Eli Broad and others who want to take over our systems.”

EM gives away assets, too

Under the leases, Roy Roberts also committed DPS to “transfer, convey, assign and deliver to the EAA all of its right, title and interest in and to the Grant Funded Assets” in each building.

“Upon such transfer, the district will have no further responsibility or liability for such grant-funded assets,” the lease documents read.

The Michigan Citizen has posted on its Web site (www.michigancitizen.com) the inventories for each EAA school listing all the DPS assets within the 15 buildings that were given to the governor’s schools.

The asset inventories list all building improvements, books, laptops, printers, scanners, desks, books and computers that are now the property of the EAA. The lists were obtained under FOIA.

In April, upon announcing his resignation as EM, Roberts said when Snyder appointed him, the governor directed him to “blow up and devastate” DPS. Roberts has since announced he will stay on as EM for another six months.

To survive this year, in addition to using DPS buildings and resources, the EAA borrowed $12 million under DPS borrowing authority. EAA officials say the money was not money DPS would use, instead the DPS served as a “pass through” for the funds.

Snyder announced at the Mackinac Conference May 31 that $59 million had been raised for the EAA. The EAA was started on the promise of private foundation funding and no state money.

The district struggled financially this year. Snyder’s office used mortgage relief funds and a technology grant to aid the distressed system.

The Eli Broad Foundation donated $10 million to the EAA for the current school year.

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