Detroit schools, state consider deal to avoid closures

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit school officials are attempting to partner with state universities to assist with turnaround efforts at 24 city schools to prevent state-mandated closures.

The plan involves Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

The four institutions would help set “high but attainable” goals at two dozen city schools that had been targeted by the state for closure, improving academic achievement and decreasing chronic absenteeism and teacher vacancies.

Goals will be evaluated after 18 months and again in 36 months, state officials said.

The proposed agreement allows Detroit officials to keep control over the fate of their schools, according to State Superintendent Brian Whiston.

“The district owns it: its teachers, parents, administrators, they all own this,” he said. “For this to work, they all must be part of this solution.”

Whiston discussed the plan Thursday at a meeting with Detroit Public Schools Community District officials, school board members, teachers, parents and representatives from the Wayne Regional Education Service Agency.

“I’m pleased with the progress by the district and it’s headed in the right direction,” he said in a statement. “For a partnership agreement to work, it’s going to take a true collaboration of many stakeholders, all working together to turn schools around for the kids of Detroit.”

DPSCD officials were not immediately available for comment.

The two dozen city schools were included in a list of 38 from 10 districts targeted by the state in January for closure. All the schools have performed in the bottom 5 percent of the state for at least three consecutive years, according to the education department.

School districts have until the end of the month to develop an agreement with state officials.

“If they don't develop a partnership agreement with the Michigan Department of Education by April 30, then they will be subject to the next level of accountability,” education department spokesman William Disessa said.

The state School Reform Office may close schools or appoint a CEO to oversee academics in districts that miss the deadline for reaching a partnership, Disessa added.

State officials have provided each district with draft agreements or templates to design potential agreements. The education department will “continue to collaborate with districts” to cement partnerships by the end of the month, Disessa said.

Of the 24 Detroit schools on the state’s closure list, 16 belong to the Detroit Public Schools Community District while another eight are part of the Education Achievement Authority, a state reform district.

The EAA is scheduled to disband June 30, officials said. Its schools will return to the DPSCD.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier