Don’t hand over our schools to a CEO

Casandra Ulbrich

Just last week, we watched as Michigan’s Governor answered very pointed questions from a Congressional Oversight Committee related to decisions made by the emergency manager in Flint.

Yet, despite the obvious failures of this emergency manager concept, its use is being expanded. This is happening even though the emergency manager idea was soundly rejected by the voters of Michigan, only to be quickly reinstated, with minor changes, by the Legislature and the governor.

But the emergency manager is getting a new name: chief executive officer, or CEO.

Recently, the state school reform officer (SRO) argued before the Legislature that the office needs a $1 million supplemental appropriation this year, and an additional $5 million next fiscal year, to hire school CEOs.

The difference between a CEO and an emergency manager: a CEO has more authority.

The SRO can appoint a CEO to take over any school across the state. In additional to controlling the finances for those schools, an appointed CEO also has the authority over all academics in the school.

Which means the CEO can:

■Assume the financial and academic authority over multiple schools;

■Assume the role of the locally elected school board for those schools they have been assigned;

■Control all funds attributable to pupils at the school without the consent of the locally elected board;

■Permanently close a school without the consent of the locally elected board;

■Sell closed school buildings without the consent of the locally elected board; and

■Convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board.

There isn’t much of a role for citizens in this process, the roll-out of which has already begun in the East Detroit School District. And, if these funds are appropriated, this may be coming to your city next.

The bottom line: emergency management has not worked well for Michigan’s schools.

Targeted support provided by the Department of Education, on the other hand, has worked well. This support, coupled with local leadership, has led to 74 schools being released from the priority list in the past three years.

If we want to spend an additional $6 million, perhaps we should invest in a proven model, rather than one that has proven to be a failure.

Casandra Ulbrich is vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education.