State sees no basis to investigate Livonia district for revoking Japanese program’s charter

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A charter school association wants state Superintendent Mike Flanagan to investigate the Livonia Public Schools district for revoking the charter of the Hinoki International School.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies issued a statement Monday calling on Flanagan to look into the district after it rescinded the Japanese immersion school’s charter in July and started its own Japanese immersion program in the district.

The district is “in essence, stealing away a successful charter school,” said MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry. “This was unethical and irresponsible authorizing on every level.”

Hinoki had been run as a charter school since 2010 to provide dual immersion for Japanese and American students. Livonia Public Schools was the authorizer of the school, which started with 14 students and grew to 130 this past school year.

Superintendent Randy Liepa told The News for a story published last week that the school was operated successfully for several years, but began to have administrative and governance problems this spring.

A comment from the district on MAPSA’s statement was not immediately available.

Bill DiSessa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said the department sees no evidence the district exceeded its authority.

“Regardless of what one thinks of the Livonia School District superintendent’s handling of Hinoki, the district was within its statutory and contractual authority as an authorizing agency to revoke Hinoki’s charter contract and then replace it with a magnet school with a similar educational program designed to serve Hinoki’s former students,” DiSessa said. “As to the call for an investigation, MDE is not aware of any illegal activities that would necessitate such an activity.”

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

Closure of the school has drawn the ire of some parents. Critics 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, unsuccessfully tried to find another building within district boundaries to operate. 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.

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

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.

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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