Detroit Board of Education member Elena Herrada believes the school board's recent vote to withdraw from the Educational Achievement Authority is a vote to save Detroit students, parents and taxpayers.
On Tuesday they voted at a special meeting to sever ties between Detroit Public Schools and the Educational Achievement Authority and to cancel a related contract with Eastern Michigan University.
The EAA, is a special statewide district composed of the lowest performing five percent of schools in Michigan. Currently it is made up of 15 schools -- all from Detroit -- and has about 10,000 students. The special district features an individualized computer-driven curriculum that its backers say is intended improve student achievement. Herrada, however, disagrees with its stated goal.
"It's very, very insidious. It is basically a Jim Crow district," she said.
"As a school system it has no public oversight, takes our new buildings that we just built with our bond money, which Detroit taxpayers and parents are still paying for, and basically leases them to these private entities, whom we do not know and who do not have to answer to us, for $1 a year."
The EAA began as a privately-supported venture, but began receiving state funding at the start of its first school year this fall.
Herrada criticizes the EAA's use of Teach for America instructors and its heavy focus on computers, arguing that the statewide district deprives students of time with experienced teachers.
"Basically [it's] taking what they consider to be our highest-risk students and [giving] them the least amount of resources," she said. "It doesn't matter if they pass or flunk because they're already in a failing district."
More than one in three teachers in the EAA belong to Teach for America, a non-profit organization made up of recent college graduates and professionals from various backgrounds who teach for two years in urban and rural public schools, according to the Detroit Free Press.
"All of our teachers went through the same screening process and have valid state teaching certificates," John Covington, the EAA's chancellor told the paper. "We wanted to ensure we had the best talent possible to educate our students."
Backers of the new district also say the individualized computer-centered curriculum allows students to take ownership for their own learning.
Whether the EAA will be dissolved because of the Detroit School Board's recent vote is a matter of debate. Gov. Snyder's office has said the agreement between EMU and DPS can't be cancelled without the approval of the EAA's executive board. Furthermore, a spokesman for DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts says the board must get approval from a judge and the results of an election repealing the emergency manager law, PA 4, must be certified before they will have the authority to make such a decision.
Herrada cited what she believes are other problems. She doesn't believe the EAA has "the institutional standing to exist," but points out the state's Republican legislature is currently seeking to close legal loopholes by codifying the new district into law.
Herrada also believes Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's lawsuit to remove seven of the body's members is also ultimately about keeping the EAA afloat.
Schuette maintains that they are on the board illegally because they were elected in separate districts instead of by the district as a whole. He says this is because DPS doesn't have enough students to qualify as a First Class School District under Michigan's Revised School Code, and hasn't since 2008. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John Gillis Jr. decided Wednesday to put the lawsuit, which seeks to remove the board members, on hold until Jan. 10.
Despite these challenges, Herrada said the board is committed to fighting for local control of schools.
"We know that they're coming up with other tricks. We're used to it," she said. "Rain or shine, crooks or no crooks, we have agreed that we will be in place until we are buried off."
Roy Roberts, a former General Motors executive, was appointed as the current emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in May 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder. Under Robert's watch, student attendance has increased dramatically, hitting 90 percent in the early part of the 2012-2013 fall term. Low attendance during the 2010-2011 school year cost DPS about $4 million in state funds. In addition to this, Roberts has implemented a "zero base" budgeting system for DPS that requires every expense to be justified. He's also managed to lower DPS' deficit to about $75 million from a high of nearly $327 million under his predecessor Robert Bobb. However, much of this deficit reduction has been achieved by taking out long-term bonds, which has left the district with $500 million in long-term debt. Due to the recent suspension of the emergency manager law Public Act 4, Robert's authority has been restricted to financial issues. This has led to a power struggle between him and Detroit's school board, which is now in charge of academic issues for the district. The emergency manager has also drawn flak from the Detroit Federation of Teachers for a top-down approach that has included imposing a contract on the union and laying off DPS teachers and staff during summer vacation and then rehiring them at the beginning of the new school year.
Perhaps Agnes Hitchcock had just read "The Grapes of Wrath" before she went to a school board meeting in April of 2007. Hitchock, the leader of a group called the Call 'Em Out Coalition, became a minor local celebrity after she began hurtling grapes at board members during a contentious vote on school closings. Although she was fined $250 for disturbing the peace and the board voted 6-5 to close 34 schools, Hitchcock said at the time that the consequences were worth it because they gave her a chance to talk about the issue in court. To see a video of the incident and an interview with Hitchcock,
LaMar Lemmons and his colleagues have wielded limited influence of late over Detroit's educational policy, due to the presence of state-appointed managers Robert Bobb and Roy Roberts. This changed a little with the temporary suspension of Public Act 4, which has restricted Emergency Manager Roy Roberts powers to financial matters and allowed the board to regain control over academic decision-making. Following this power shift, the board appointed John Telford interim superintendent of DPS and also voted to break DPS' ties with the state's new Educational Achievement Authority, a move a judge later overturned. As a member of the board, Lemmons has been involved with numerous power struggles with the state and its appointed managers to determine who runs Detroit's schools. The state attorney general is now engaged in a legal battle to remove seven members from the board as a result of changes in student enrollment numbers. In June of 2012 Lemmons became involved in a dispute with DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts who wanted to take his ex-oficio seat on the Detroit Library Commission, claiming his emergency powers allowed him to replace the school board president. Roberts later backed off from that position. Lemmons has also been involved in school board lawsuits against former Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb for implementing his own academic plan prior to Public Act 4. and taking money from the the Broad Foundation, a supporter of charter schools. As a former state representative, Lemmons has also had legal troubles of his own. He was found guilty in 2006 of failing to file two or more campaign finance statements and had to pay about $1,000 in fines to the state. Lemmons has also worked as a special assistant to former Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara and a block club organizer.
Dr. Kenneth Burnley was a former Detroit Schools CEO who ran Detroit Public Schools from 2000 to 2005. He was was hired by a special "reform" school board, selected by Mayor Dennis Archer as the result of Public Act 10 of 1999. That law removed the city's traditional board and replaced it with six mayoral appointees, as well as another board seat belonging to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction or a designee. A 2004 law restored the elected school board. Under the administration of Burnley and the appointed school board, the district's state assessment reading scores increased, but so did the financial burden. Detroit Public Schools went from a $100 million fiscal surplus in 1999 to a $200 million deficit in 2004. In 2011, Burnley was questioned in a DPS investigation questioning whether real estate fraud had been committed during his administration. In a statement on his website, Burnley claimed his real estate transactions had saved Detroit taxpayers millions. After leaving DPS, Burnley worked as the director of the Education Leadership Center at the University of Michigan and the superintendent of schools at the Mat Su Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska. Burnley died in 2011. DPS now offers memorial scholarships to students in his name.
Several foundations play a role in determining Detroit's educational landscape. The Skillman Foundation is a charitable private grant-making foundation established in 1960. Although it awards grants all over Metro Detroit, Skillman often focuses on the city itself -- particularly the neighborhoods of Brightmoor, Cody Rouge, Osborn, Chadsey Condon, North End Woodward Central and Southwest Detroit. Skillman operates a four-part "Good Schools" plan that includes creating a city-wide schools infrastructure,early childhood education, improving schools in target neighborhoods, and encouraging parent and public support for high-quality education. The foundations efforts are guided by a set of 2016 goals that was created through a community planning process. The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private foundation that is headquartered in Troy, Mich. According to its website, its goals for Detroit education correspond with a city-wide education plan created by the non-profit group Excellent Schools Detroit, which aims to have Detroit be the first major U.S. city to have 90 percent high school graduation, 90 percent enrolled in college or a post-secondary school program an 90 percent of those enrolees succeed without remediation. Kresge invests in projects that: help develop new models of early childhood education; realign health and human services to help students achieve; and bring "innovative and exemplary 21st-century education models to Detroit neighborhoods." The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was started in 1930 by the breakfast mogul for whom it's named. It's based in Battle Creek Michigan, and has a special emphasis on projects in the state of Michigan. The foundation's education work centers on integrated child development, family literacy, educational advocacy, innovative educational practice and lifelong learning. It also supports Excellent Schools Detroit. The McGregor Fund was established in 1925 by social reformers Tracy and Katherine McGregor "to relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of mankind." Currently, the Detroit-based foundation sponsors a New Urban Learning program that considers requests from independent schools, religious schools and charter schools in Detroit, as well as Wayne, Macomb and Oakland county. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation is a California-based fund whose founders have ties to Michigan. It operates an institution called the Broad Center, which focuses on recruiting, training and supporting leaders for urban school systems. It offers a leadership development programs for superintendents and a residency that places individuals in management positions in school districts charters and federal and state education departments. Every year the organization offers a $1 million prize for the urban school districts that show the greatest improvement in academic performance while reducing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. It also offers a $250,000 prize for public charter schools. In 2010 the Detroit School Board sued former Emergency Manager Robert Bobb, a graduate of their superintendent program, for receiving tens of thousands of dollars in supplemental income from the Broad Foundation and other philanthropic groups while running the city's public school system. (Flickr photo by mcchots)
Robert Bobb,was appointed as an emergency financial manager to run Detroit's public school system by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2009. During his tenure he broadened the districts' Advanced Placement choices, increased reading and math lesson time for young students, negotiated union concessions and set in motion a $500 million effort to rebuild city schools. He also closed dozens of schools and increased the school deficit from $219 million when he came into office to $327 million when he left. Bobb was also sued twice by the Detroit Board of Education. Once for
Dr. John Telford was hired in as the interim superintendent of Detroit Public Schools by the Detroit School Board in August of 2012 at the rate of $1 a year. His appointment followed the temporary suspension of Public Act 4, which downgraded the power of Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and allowed the school board to reassert its authority over academics. The Detroit Free Press reports that much of Telford's work involves visiting schools and DPS officials to evaluate how things are running and that Karen Ridgeway, who was hired by the district's Emergency Manager to run academic operations, still plays a vital role in the the school system's daily operations. Telford has a B.A. and M.Ed. in English and a doctorate in Secondary Administration from Wayne State University. He has worked as a teacher and coach in the Detroit Public School system and served at variety of administrative roles at different Southeast Michigan districts, including Deputy Superintendent for Rochester Public Schools and interim superintendent of Madison Heights Schools. Telford resigned from his job in the Madison Heights district after a plan of his to aggressively recruit Detroit students to help bring more per-pupil funding into the school system was met with opposition by residents and board members. He claimed he was forced out of the job by racists. Telford recently laid out his objectives for the district in address to the school board. His goals include increasing student achievement and recruiting and retaining high quality employees. The interim superintendent is a former All-American Sprinter and a Golden Gloves champ, as well as the author of a book called "A Life on the Run – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice." Telford suffered a heart-attack on October 4, 2012 and had a stint inserted into an artery by doctors at a Royal Oak, Mich. Hospital to aid his recovery.
Otis Mathis is a former Detroit school board president who resigned after being accused of fondling himself during a meeting with a female school superintendent. He stepped down from his position in 2010, tried unsuccessfully to win reinstatement and was ultimately sentenced to two years probation for the incident. Although he was praised by some colleagues for his easygoing manner and leadership abilities, Mathis also came under fire during his tenure for his poor writing skills. Some critics charged that the School Board President was functionally illiterate. "I never thought you'd get attacked because you were successful, because you figured a way to deal with your disability," Mathis told Mlive, responding to those allegations..
Dr. John Covington is the Chancellor of the Educational Achievement Authority, a statewide educational system designed to overhaul education in Michigan's lowest performing schools. The EAA, which began its first school year in September 2012, features an individualized, computer-centered learning program. Currently the system is made up of 15 former Detroit Public Schools. Prior to being hired as the EAA Chancellor, Covington served as a superintendent in Kansas City, MS. During his tenure there Covington balanced the district's budget through a dramatic overhaul that included closing half the city's schools and firing administrative staff. Test scores, however, dropped on his watch. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, praised Covington for his efforts to stabilize Kansas City's district. "The reforms have been more solidly institutionalized than anything they’ve seen before," he told the New York Times. Covington has also served as a superintendent in Pueblo, CO and Lowndes County, AL, and has filled a number of other positions at various public schools around the country. Dr. Covington earned B.S., M.S., AA Certification and Ed.S. degrees from Alabama State University. He also holds a M.Ed. Certification from Troy University and an AA Certification and Ed.D. degree from Auburn University.
Michael Khoury is president of Detroit Cristo Rey High School, a private Catholic school that opened in 2008. The institution had 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rates for the 2011-2012 school year. Christo Rey holds classes four days a week and requires students to work at a local business or institution one day a week. The work experience helps students pay the cost of tuition. At a speaker series sponsored by The Huffington Post and Model D, Khoury said, "Being an eight-year program -- we don't consider our work done until the student graduates from college." Before working at Detroit Cristo Rey, he spent over twenty years in business, holding management positions with Owens Corning, Pilkington Glass and Avery Dennison. He holds a BSBA from Akron University and has an MBA from Indiana University. Khoury is a HuffPost blogger.
Keith Johnson, elected in 2009, heads up the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The union is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and represents teachers in Detroit Public Schools. As President of the Union, Johnson has butted heads with emergency managers Robert Bobb and Roy Roberts. He argued with Bobb about a teacher pay deferment proposal and later asked Granholm to remove him from office. He's also fought with Roberts about the imposition of a contract under the emergency manager law Public Act 4, and had threatened a "monumental" lawsuit against the school district over district-wide summer layoffs and controversial teacher interviews and evaluations. The suit was averted due to the temporary suspension of Public Act 4. In 2011, Johnson narrowly beat challenger Steve Conn. Conn alleged irregularities during that election and was later suspended for misconduct and banned from holding union office. Johnson began his teaching career in 1980 and taught in the Detroit Public Schools for 15 years.