August 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Livonia district removes charter, takes over Japanese immersion school

Japanese language teacher Rie Hanai works iwith Soze Mercer, 6, during math class in 2012 at Hinoki International School. in 2012. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

Livonia Public Schools has revoked the charter for a Japanese immersion school it authorized for four years and will operate the same program as a district magnet school this fall.

Hinoki International School had been run as a charter school since 2011 to provide dual immersion for Japanese and American students. Livonia Public Schools was authorizer of the school, which started with 14 students and grew to 130 this past school year.

Superintendent Randy Liepa said the school was operated successfully for several years, but began to have administrative and governance problems in the spring.

Liepa said Hinoki founder Ted Delphia told the district “he could no longer handle” all the administrative duties that came with operating a school, from pupil accounting to human resources to interacting with students.

Last month’s school board decision to revoke the charter was to ensure the school’s operations and success long-term, Liepa said.

Closure of the school has drawn the ire of some parents, including one who says he is pulling his son out of the program at the end of the next school year and leaving the city.

“We looked to resolve the issues,” Liepa said. “If the district runs the program itself, we have the resources. We have a board in place. We thought it was a good resolution to something that was broken at that point in time.”

Critics of the decision have accused the Livonia school system of revoking the charter to benefit itself financially, because it will now get about $8,019 in state funding for every student in the new district-run program. Enrollment in the district has declined for seven consecutive years.

Anne Hooghart, president of the Hinoki board of directors, tried to find another building within district boundaries to operate, but was unable to do so.

In a letter dated July 11, Hooghart asked the district to support the charter through 2015 while she searched for a new building and a new authorizer.

“This would be a positive symbolic gesture that would strengthen the image of LPS among certain stakeholders,” the letter stated.

Liepa said the district did not think it was appropriate to let the charter stand dormant for a year.

Hinoki parent Johannes Cawood said the district promised not to pull the charter and let Hinoki find a new home, and then went back on its word. The district denies that.

Cawood is enrolling his 8-year-old in the district program this fall because he wants the child to continue learning Japanese. But after the school year is over, Cawood is moving his family to Novi and will enroll his son in a Japanese school program there.

After three years at Hinoki, Cawood’s son can read, write and speak Japanese fluently. Cawood said he is angry with the district.

“I can’t trust them, so I’m moving and pulling my son out next year,” Cawood said.

The district has hired 13 teachers, mostly from the charter school and under union contract, for the magnet school, which operates 200 days a year. It has hired a new administrator to lead the school.

“Our focus is about making sure we provide the best program for the kids. We want this program to survive and not let it fall apart,” Liepa said.

About 135 students have applied to enroll this fall in the school, which will educate children in grades K-4. This program is geared toward elementary students looking for a specialized learning experience in a Japanese/English dual immersion setting.
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Kodai Ueda, 6, works on Japanese at Hinoki International School in 2012. ... (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)