EAA looks to future beyond dissolution

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The Education Achievement Authority continues to recruit students, hire teachers and promote its curriculum despite the fact that the district will cease to exist when its interlocal agreement with Eastern Michigan University ends a year from now.

At that time, the state’s recovery district of 11 direct-run schools will become part of the new Detroit school district being created under a $617 million rescue package for Detroit Public Schools that state lawmakers approved this month.

But at Tuesday’s board of directors’ annual budget meeting, EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme made it clear that the district’s buildings, teachers and students still will be there, and plans are being made for the upcoming school year and for the transition back into the Detroit school system.

“The plan is to work with the governor’s office to sit down and develop a plan to ensure what is happening at our schools continues,” she said at the meeting, and in a Power Point presentation during her report. “Our goal is to work with the School Reform Office, the governor’s office and DPS to push forward in the best interest of our students and parents.”

Board president Joyce Hayes-Giles echoed Conforme’s sentiments.

“I want to add my voice to the chancellor’s,” she said. “We’re going to work with the governor’s office to make sure we do a smooth transition.”

Among budgetary issues discussed was a decrease in enrollment from 5,700 students in 12 direct-run schools in the fall of 2015, to a projected 5,180 students in 11 schools for fall 2016. The EAA recently closed Phoenix Academy in southwest Detroit because of dwindling enrollment.

In 2015-16, the state-run district’s fund balance increased from $456,000 to $3 million because of the elimination of the debt service the EAA had been paying to DPS in the form of rent, according to Jeremy Vidito, chief finance, data and accountability officer.

“The 2016-17 fund balance went from $3 million to $70,000 because this could potentially be the last transition year for the EAA and we wanted to make sure all the resources are used for students,” said Vidito. “As opposed to maintaining a fund balance going forward, it makes more sense to use the resources to support kids and not leave any resources on the table.”

He said the budget for 2016-17 is $81.9 million and last year’s budget was $85.7 million.

“There was an increase in federal funding and a decrease in enrollment, which created an overall increase,” said Vidito.

The EAA, a pet project of Gov. Rick Snyder, opened for the 2012-13 school year with 15 schools transferred from DPS. The recovery district was intended to expand statewide and turn around Michigan’s lowest performing schools.

But proposals to expand the district stalled in the state Legislature and the EAA struggled with financial troubles, falling enrollment and low test scores. The district also was buffeted by a corruption scandal in which a former high school principal and two contractors pleaded guilty this year to felony charges in a bribery and kickback scheme.