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Rubin: McPhail resurfaces at charter school, for $130K

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The most amazing thing about Sharon McPhail running a substandard charter school is that the story is actually worse than that.

Maybe you’ve wondered what McPhail is up to, now that she’s not running for yet another office, accusing Kwame Kilpatrick of trying to electrocute her, or turning around and defending the renowned future inmate when the governor was trying to knock him off his mayoral throne.

Or maybe you’ve just been glad that you haven’t heard her name.

She’s been largely under the radar since she left her job as Detroit’s general counsel and Kilpatrick started making license plates.

As noted, however, in a dandy story by Chastity Pratt Dawsey in Tuesday’s Bridge magazine, McPhail has spent the last 3 1/2 years collecting $130,000 per annum as superintendent of something called Detroit Community Schools.

Despite the name, which sounds like a vast district that you might actually pay somebody $130,000 to run, Detroit Community Schools (DCS) is simply a high-staff-turnover, low-achievement K-through-12 institution on the west side with about 800 students.

Lone Brightmoor high school struggles

It’s in Brightmoor, a poor neighborhood so far removed from the good news in Midtown and downtown that it might as well be surrounded by a moat.

As Dawsey’s research points out, DCS has a higher four-year graduation rate and lower dropout rate than Detroit Public Schools. Those sound like encouraging things.

What it also has, unfortunately, is a history of unqualified graduates.

The accepted measuring stick for college or career readiness is passing each of the four subjects in the ACT. In 2014-15, exactly zero of 84 DCS students managed to pull that off.

Since 2006-07, out of 1,053 students tested, two have passed. That’s a resounding 0.19 percent, if you round up, which the unfortunate DCS graduates may or may not know how to do.

And the story is worse than that, too.

What’s my line?

McPhail is a lawyer, not an educator.

She has not been certified by the state to be a superintendent, which by law she had three years to do from the time she took the job.

When Dawsey asked about that, McPhail took immediate action: she had her title on the school’s website changed to “chief administrative officer.”

She could call herself Grand Vizier, of course, and she would still be the superintendent. But the story is worse than that, because it includes William F. Coleman III and Sylvia James.

Coleman was fired as Detroit Public Schools CEO in 2007 for steering business to a friend who was under investigation for bribery and money laundering in Dallas.

The friend was ultimately convicted, while Coleman rolled over in the same case and was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge.

At McPhail’s school, he’s the chief financial officer.

James was a district court judge in Inskter until she was yanked from the bench for misappropriating money and lying repeatedly to the Judicial Tenure Commission.

At McPhail’s school, she’s the dean.

Small blessing

What it all smells suspiciously like is the familiar stew of arrogance, back-scratching and recycled incompetence that gets served up regularly in Detroit and, for that matter, Lansing.

Bottom line, says Brian Gutman of the advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest, “Far too many charter schools are not living up to their promise to deliver better achievement.”

Meanwhile, in news of Detroit Public Schools, one of the 14 defendants in a kickback scheme cried in court Tuesday during her arraignment.

Her lawyer said it was a sad day. He was wrong.

In Detroit, kids earnestly plug along while they’re robbed by administrators, ignored by legislators or fooled by charter operators who claim they can deliver something better.

For them, it was the best day in a while.