Snyder orders ‘performance and structure’ review of EAA

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday ordered a “performance and structure” review of the Education Achievement Authority and how the school reform district might fit into his proposed overhaul of Detroit’s fractured system of public schools.

Snyder’s office said a review of the EAA would be conducted after an executive order took effect Tuesday placing the School Reform Office under the governor’s control. The office has previously been housed at the Department of Education, which is constitutionally under control of the State Board of Education.

“The reform office will review the performance and structure of the schools to help determine next steps,” Snyder’s office said in a news release. “The administration is also looking at how the EAA schools fit into the broader Detroit education reforms.”

The review comes as questions about the EAA’s future swirl in Lansing amid efforts to overhaul Detroit Public Schools, four years after Snyder’s office created the recovery district in an attempt to turn around low academic achievement in 15 former DPS schools.

“I think the governor had good intentions, but (the EAA) hasn’t worked,” said Detroiter Kathleen Straus, a Democratic member of the State Board of Education. “I’m concerned about the future, if any, of the EAA.”

Members of the State Board of Education, who have been mostly hostile to the EAA, asked Snyder’s education adviser at a board meeting Tuesday what happens to the EAA under his proposal to create a new debt-free DPS.

“We are still considering where and how the EAA will fit into the process and we just don’t have an answer on that right now,” said Karen McPhee, education adviser. “We are aware of the concerns and we’re also aware of the potential, but we just don’t have an answer yet on where that’s going to fit into the construct.”

Asked for comment Tuesday, Mario Morrow, an EAA spokesman, referred questions to Snyder’s office.

The EAA has struggled with low test scores, falling enrollment and funding shortfalls. Enrollment this school year is about 6,500, according to the district.

During Tuesday’s meeting, McPhee presented the board with Snyder’s plan for creating a new Detroit school district that would be free of $483 million in debt, but remain under some sort of state control.

Snyder’s plan calls for a new school board that would be initially appointed by him and Mayor Mike Duggan, but contain a “pathway” to returning to an elected board over a period of six years.

Duggan has slammed the plan — and so did some of the State Board of Education members on Tuesday, saying they want an immediate restoration of complete local control of DPS after six years of emergency management.

“This angers me. How dare the governor impose upon these people and erode and attack the civil rights of these people,” said board member Pamela Pugh Smith, D-Saginaw.

The governor believes continued state oversight is an appropriate tradeoff for having the state assume the $483 million in debt over a period of several years, McPhee said.

Snyder’s multi-layered state oversight plan calls for the creation of a new citywide Detroit Education Commission to oversee the management of DPS and charter schools.

The commission, whose members also would be appointed by the governor and mayor, would be tasked with hiring an “education manager” who would evaluate the academic performance of schools and close them, if necessary. Under the plan, the education manager would then be able to bid out operation of that shuttered school to another operator, such as DPS or a charter school authorizer.

During an April 30 press conference, Snyder was asked whether the EAA could be one of the operators. “Most likely not,” the governor replied.

But the ability of a new centralized authority to decide where DPS or charter schools operate in Detroit did not sit well with Richard Zeile, a Republican member of the State Board of Education and school choice advocate from Dearborn.

“Adding an extra layer of bureaucracy I don’t think is the solution,” Zeile said. “Limiting (school) choice by appointing a czar to decide which schools will open and close ... does not appear to me to be a fruitful approach.”

But Zeile also said he agrees with the governor that the state is responsible for the debt racked up by state-appointed emergency managers. “I think it makes sense to shift that debt statewide and free Detroit schools of that debt,” he said.

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