Detroit district to take over 14 EAA schools in June

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Public Schools Community District will take over 14 Education Achievement Authority schools in June, authorities announced Monday, along with a plan to repay millions the authority owes the district.

The EAA schools will return to the district in July 2017 and hopefully, officials say, so will the students in those buildings. There are about 5,500 students attending the 11 schools and another 1,000 enrolled in three charter schools, EAA chancellor Veronica Conforme said at Spain Elementary Middle School. Phoenix Academy in southwest Detroit closed earlier in the year.

If most of the students at the EAA schools return to the Detroit public schools, it could mean millions more in state funding for a district that has been hemorrhaging money and thousands of students for years.

As part of the agreement, the EAA will pay the Detroit district $2.25 million in debt, according to Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes and Conforme. EAA will make the payments in monthly installments from its budget, which began in July and will end in August.

According to an agreement signed by Rhodes and Conforme, the EAA will pay nearly $1.4 million in rent on buildings for this school year, plus $831,000 for services such as security and information technology. The first payment was for $200,000 and the final payment will be just over $346,000.

The agreement says the EAA has made $9 million in improvements to the buildings and facilities it inherited from DPS when the EAA was formed four years ago as a way to turn around failing schools.

The two school districts have wrangled over $12 million in lease payments the EAA owes DPS for the past two years.

An invoice attached to the agreement notes more than $5.2 million in building leasing costs is in question for the 2015-16 school year.

Rhodes said the debt owed the district includes rentals of buildings — which will return to the Detroit school district — that have received “extraordinary improvements” from the EAA. Conforme said some of the improvements included infrastructure and technology upgrades.

State Treasury spokeswoman Danelle Gittus said EAA will be paying the money to the district: “Treasury is not involved in this agreement.”

EAA parent A’lelle Masters has mixed feelings about the transition back to Detroit public schools.

“I can’t say I’m relieved, because, we as parents don’t really know what DPSCD is going to do because their test scores have shown the district has failed students,” said Masters, whose son Myreun Masters is 16 and in the 11th grade.

“But I’m fine with it because I never really agreed with EAA schools being segregated into the worst 15 performing schools in the state.”

The Detroit school district was given a fresh start by the state when the Legislature passed a package of bills that created a new, virtually debt-free district. As a result, the per-pupil allowance of $7,552 is being used for resources the district says directly impact classroom instruction.

The accumulated hundreds of millions in debt racked up over the years stays with the old Detroit Public Schools district to be paid off using state aid and property tax.

Together, the DPSCD and EAA serve more than 50,000 students, and deliver instruction in more than 100 facilities. The Detroit district expects its enrollment to be just over 45,500 students this school year.

Michigan State University professor Robert Floden was not impressed with the EAA.

“It was an expensive experiment, with substantial investments from philanthropic sources in addition to the state per-pupil funding,” Floden said.

“It was never clear what instructional approach was being tested, so I would say it was an experiment from which little was learned.”

The EAA — which has been wracked by financial scandal, poor academic performance and even worse public perception — will try to conduct business as usual in a lame-duck school year that some argue hinders parents, students and teachers.

Critics call the authority a failed experiment, doomed before it was out of the gate. Others praise Gov. Rick Snyder for trying to turn around some of the state’s lowest-performing schools by establishing the EAA, which began operating in the fall of 2012 with 15 former Detroit public schools.

Snyder had hoped to expand the state-run district beyond Detroit, but he faced resistance from legislators, teachers’ unions and faculty at Eastern Michigan University.

The Ypsilanti school’s Board of Regents voted in February this year to end its interlocal agreement with the EAA, effective June 30, 2017.

Conforme and Rhodes said the two districts are working out what will happen to the EAA teachers.

“We haven’t yet worked through the issues about guaranteed jobs,” Conforme said.

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