EMU regents vote to cut ties with EAA

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti – One of Eastern Michigan University’s biggest controversies has come to an end.

The Board of Regents voted Friday to sever ties with the Education Achievement Authority, effectively ending an interlocal agreement that authorized Michigan’s recovery district for failing schools.

The EAA was launched by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 but was wrought with turmoil over low test scores, financial trouble and other problems. It tapped EMU to be its partner, but the turnaround school district’s problems haunted EMU, whose faculty lobbied the Board of Regents for years to end the relationship.

There was no discussion by regents following the unanimous vote. But board Chairman Mike Morris issued a written statement.

“From the beginning, Eastern’s objective in this effort has been focused on helping the students of Detroit and trying to improve educational outcomes,” Morris said. “We are taking this action today because it is the right thing to do for our University. It is increasingly clear that the anticipated legislation in Lansing to formally address this matter, and end the EAA, is now moving forward.”

Under the interlocal agreement, EMU was supposed to provide educational services and expertise to the EAA, some professors say that did not happen. Faculty said they were excluded and that the EAA engaged in questionable educational practices.

They also note that some school districts have shunned EMU student teachers because of the university’s relationship with the EAA, sparking fears of damage to the reputation of the university, long known as a premier institution for teacher training..

But EMU interim President Don Loppnow said he did not expect that would happen.

“The historic emphasis that our university has had on education, and the outstanding work of the faculty and the positive impact our alumni have had on the state and nation would far outweigh this point in our particular history,” Loppnow said in a meeting with reporters.

During the public comment section of the meeting, EMU Faculty Senate President Judith Kulberg said it was time for the agreement to end.

“Withdrawal from the EAA allows the entire EMU community to move forward,” Kulberg said.

EMU student body President Steven Cole agreed, calling it “long overdue.” “This will start rebuilding the legitimacy of the College of Education,” he said.

It was widely expected that EMU would depart from the agreement in December, so the university could give the required 180 days notice of its intent to leave the interlocal agreement with the EAA, which expires in June 2016.

The timing of Friday’s vote means the agreement is officially in place through June 2017, but Loppnow hinted it could end much earlier. This week, state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said the EAA would be scrapped as lawmakers were mulling a $715 million rescue plan for Detroit Public Schools.

“The Education Achievement Authority has embraced innovation and pioneered a holistic approach to helping children and their families work toward a brighter future,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said after Friday’s vote. “We appreciate the important and hard work of Chancellor Veronica Conforme, her faculty and staff and the investment they have made in Detroit’s children. We intend to see that work continue.

“While we understand that EMU has chosen to end its partnership in this endeavor, we are hopeful that the Legislature will consider new ways to improve academics in all Detroit schools so that all students have the opportunity to be successful,” Murray said.

The vote came after EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme urged the regents to end the interlocal agreement that authorizes Michigan’s recovery district for failing schools, calling it “unsustainable.”

In a statement after the vote, Conforme said, “Since its inception, the EAA has been a controversial subject in the conversation of Detroit education. Today the EMU board of regents and I are in agreement that it was time to stop talking about the controversy and focus on creating solutions that allow for long term success.”

The state-run district operates 12 direct-run and three charter schools in Detroit. Its future has appeared increasingly dim as state lawmakers debate Snyder’s plan to rescue the financially troubled DPS and restructure Detroit’s education system, which includes numerous charter schools.

The EAA has struggled with funding woes, declining enrollment, low test scores and a corruption scandal involving employees and contractors.

On Thursday, former district principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp pleaded guilty to felony charges of bribery conspiracy and federal income tax evasion and Glynis Thompson, owner of a tutoring company, pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy.