Charter school sues Sharon McPhail, alleges she has school property

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Sharon McPhail

Detroit — Officials at a Detroit charter school are asking a judge to issue an emergency restraining order against Sharon McPhail to prohibit her from managing business operations at the school and to return its property.

Nancy Berkompas, a newly appointed conservator of Detroit Community Schools, filed a lawsuit and request for an injunction against McPhail on Thursday in Wayne Circuit Court, alleging that after McPhail was fired on Monday, she refused to leave the school.

McPhail was terminated after she refused to obtain the proper state certification to be superintendent at the school within three years of taking the position in 2012, school officials said.

The same day, the school's authorizer, Bay Mills Community College, installed Berkompas, a former teacher and school superintendent, as conservator.

The lawsuit says McPhail ignored repeated requests and notices to obtain the legal certification to be a superintendent or chief administrative officer, incurring more than $200,000 in fines for her failure to comply with the law.

Berkompas, through her attorneys, is asking the court to issue a judgment that says McPhail has no authority to operate or enter the school, to act as a signatory or co-signatory on school accounts and to keep any school property. The lawsuit also asks for a judicial order to block McPhail from interfering with the conservator and her duties.

In their request for an emergency restraining order, Berkompas' attorneys allege McPhail was trespassing on school property and has possession of school checks and financial documents, equipment, technology and records

"Plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm if defendant is permitted to exercise authority over operations and management of Detroit Community Schools," the lawsuit reads, including incurring fines for non-compliance with state law, creating the financial inability to pay school teachers and staff.

McPhail's continued operations of the school "will financially devastate plaintiff and harm the well-being of over 700 students" attending the school, the lawsuit alleges.

Tom Shields, a spokesman for the college, said after McPhail was informed of her termination, she told the staff "she decided to take a vacation for rest of the week."

"She did refuse to leave," said Shields, declining to explain how McPhail was removed from the school and whether it was voluntary.

The lawsuit alleges the school incurred costs to remove McPhail from school property "to ensure safety of the premises."

Shield said he was told that McPhail did not want to obtain certification after taking some courses and finding them  "useless."

In order to avoid the legal requirement of certification, over a period of two years McPhail served in four different positions at the charter school, general counsel, chief business officer, chief administrative officer and school leader, the lawsuit alleges.

McPhail is an attorney and former general counsel for the city of Detroit. She was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. Calls to attorneys for the school also were not returned on Thursday.

Officials said Berkompas' work will focus on bringing the school into compliance with state law by retaining a chief administrator with proper state certification, obtaining the proper financing that will allow the school to continue operations and addressing the penalties assessed by the state.

Last month, Bay Mills suspended the school’s board. It will remain suspended until the conservator’s work has been concluded, officials said.

The charter school, founded in 1997, serves more than 650 students in grades K-12 and is in the Brightmoor neighborhood. Bay Mills Community College oversees 46 charter schools serving more than 22,000 students.