Whiston against state takeover legislation

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston does not want the state to run the school district.

In a letter written to community members, Whiston told residents that may happen if two bills in the Legislature are passed, which may result in a state-controlled board taking over DPS, among other districts, which would allocate district decision making to a for-profit group.

If passed, two identical bills, HB 6004 and SB 1358, sponsored by State Rep. Lisa Lyons (R-Alto) and state Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Township), will take authority away from local school board trustees and give power to a single statewide school district, known as the Education Achievement Authority.

Lyons and Pavlov did not return calls or emails by press time.

The EAA, originally formed through an interlocal agreement between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents, could oversee more school districts they deem are performing poorly if the two bills are passed.

The EAA, which currently oversees 15 Detroit public schools, would “assume operation of the lowest 5 percent of performing schools in the state of Michigan that are not achieving satisfactory results on a redesign plan or that are under an emergency manager,” according to the www.michigan.gov/eaa.

A governor-appointed board and chancellor oversee the EAA.

According to www.michigan.gov/mde, the Michigan Department of Education chooses the lowest 5 percent of performing schools, called Priority Schools, based on their achievement, improvement and achievement gap with standardized test scores.

In Whiston’s letter, he wrote about a negative power shift he says will occur if the bills are passed.

“These bills shift control away from local school board trustees that you elect and give a great deal of power to a single statewide school district,” Whiston said in the letter. “Even more troubling about these proposed changes is that the important job of educating children will be turned over to for-profit operators who can pick and choose the children they want to allow into their schools.”

The EAA began operating Detroit Public Schools in September. According to www.michigan.gov/eaa, the special statewide district is currently comprised of nine elementary schools and six high schools. The EAA assigned 15 principals to those schools.

According to Michigan Parents for Schools, a non-profit organization, the EAA can hand the lowest 5 percent of performing schools over to for-profit charter management companies and has the power to charter new schools anywhere in the state, regardless of whether the schools there are failing.

The EAA plans to make the schools financially stable by providing resources and a supportive, safe learning environment for the betterment of students, according to www.michigan.gov/eaa.

The EAA will have the power to hire “the best management and personnel” to work in underperforming schools, according to www.michigan.gov/eaa. Existing employees also may apply for positions in the school; the EAA also may move students to more functional school buildings if needed, according to the website.

School districts that are not in the bottom 5 percent will operate as usual, but they may enter into a partnership with the EAA if they are interested, according to www.michigan.gov/eaa.

Whiston said he didn’t think a state-controlled takeover of DPS was possible, “but obviously some legislators in Lansing do.”

In the letter, Whiston said the district is thankful to Dearborn’s state-level elected officials — George Darany (D-15th District), David Nathan (D-11th District), and Sen Morris Hood (D-3rd District) — who understand “how wrong these proposals are.”

Darany said that a lot of concerned residents called and emailed his office regarding the pending legislation, and he has not received any calls from residents who agree with the legislation.

Darany added that he encourages residents in other communities to make sure they tell their representatives their feelings about the legislation.

Nathan and Hood did not return calls by press time.

DPS Communications Coordinator David Mustonen said the EAA has not contacted the school district and the district is not under any immediate threat of a statewide takeover.