Settlement talks continue in McPhail, charter school fight

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Negotiations are ongoing to reach a possible settlement in a civil case involving former Detroit City Councilwoman Sharon McPhail after she was fired as superintendent of a Detroit charter school.

Attorneys for McPhail and Detroit Community Schools appeared Tuesday in Wayne Circuit Court, where a scheduled show-cause hearing was rescheduled for Nov. 14.

"We are still in talks," said McPhail's attorney, Dan Harold, Tuesday.

It is not clear what the settlement would consist of but any settlement would cover both portions of the case — a request for a restraining order by the school against McPhail and a lawsuit by the school against McPhail.

McPhail was terminated from Detroit Community Schools on Oct. 8, the same day the school's authorizer appointed a conservator to bring the school into compliance with state law.

Officials with the school, authorized by Bay Mills Community College, said McPhail was removed after refusing to obtain the proper state certification to be superintendent within three years of being hired in 2012.

Attorneys for the school are asking Wayne Circuit Judge Craig Strong to issue a restraining order to prohibit McPhail from managing business operations at the school and requiring her to return its property.

No such order has been granted. The request was listed on Strong's docket for a hearing and remains pending.

A public relations firm issued a press release on Oct. 12 that erroneously stated a restraining order had been issued against McPhail. The Detroit News relayed that information at the time.

Tom Shields, president and founder of Marketing Resource Group, which issued the release, said he had been told by an attorney for Bay Mills Community College that the restraining order has been approved.

Attorneys representing the charter school are with another law firm, he said.

"He read through the order quickly. The problem is he is a Bay Mills attorney and he gets it second hand," Shield said. "I apologize, and we didn’t know until the next Tuesday that it had not been approved."

Shields said his staff did not issue a corrected press release.

McPhail, who is being sued by the college, disputes her former employer's claim that she lacked certification as a school administrator.

In court documents, McPhail's attorneys, Elliott Hall, Mayer Morganroth and Daniel Harold, maintained she is certified.

In a legal brief, McPhail said she does have certification but that she has "never been responsible for instructional programs at Detroit Community Schools," adding that "at no time during my employment has my job been to administer instructional programs."

The school has incurred $200,000 in state fines as a result of McPhail's alleged "failure to comply" with state law to be credentialed, according to attorneys for the school.

State law mandates that school administrators hired before January 2010 are not required to hold administrator certification and those hired after that time must hold a valid administrator certificate or be enrolled in a program leading to such certification.

In addition to the restraining order, the school is also suing McPhail, 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, Nancy Berkompas, and her duties.

McPhail had held four different titles at the school: general counsel, chief business officer, chief administrative officer and school leader, which Berkompas' suit alleges was an attempt to evade the certification requirement. 

The school, founded in 1997, has 650 students in grades K-12.