Headlines

Week in Review: Why school board candidates might struggle to pass a credit check

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit voters will have to choose among 63 candidates to fill seven seats on the new Detroit school board.

How should voters sort through the 63 candidates running for Detroit’s newly empowered school board? A collaboration among several city news organizations this week offered one suggestion: look at their finances.

The news organizations scrutinized all of the candidates’ backgrounds and found that more than half had gotten into deep financial straits, with a dozen filing for bankruptcy over the years. The reporting suggested that the records should give voters pause about candidates’ fitness for a role that includes overseeing the district’s budget — but several contenders said their stories are not unusual in a city where many families struggle.

“It was just one of those times in life. I was a single mom. I was just trying to juggle my bills with raising my three kids.”

— Renae Micou, a preschool administrator who has been sued 30 times since 2002 over unpaid rent

An early issue that the new board might have to confront: school closures, which a new state law could foist on schools with three straight years of rock-bottom test scores. Read on to learn why one Detroit school in the crosshairs says the state’s approach could derail progress that’s already underway — and for the rest of this week’s headlines. Thanks for reading!

Bankrupt and on board:

Investigations by reporters from several collaborating news organizations found that many of the 63 candidates seeking seven open spots on the new Detroit Public Schools Community District board have had financial problems including bankruptcies, foreclosures or evictions.

None appeared to have criminal records but one candidate — a man who works as a teacher’s aide at a charter school — was twice ticketed for soliciting prostitution. He has been put on leave from his job.

Candidates named in the story defended their records, noting that many Detroiters were caught up in recent mortgage and financial crises and shouldn’t be judged for not having the money to weather those storms. One candidate, a retired DPS teacher, noted that her financial burden is due in part to the “many cuts” that have been made to teacher pay in recent years.

But the general manager of a TV station that participated in the candidate review wrote that it’s “imperative” that board members “cannot be … underachievers who use the position to gain political clout or popularity.”

The Free Press compiled the findings into a database that lets voters see which candidates faced financial challenges. The database also includes responses from the 26 candidates who submitted responses to reporters’ questionnaires.

The Detroit News also published its findings on the candidates this week. Among them:

  • Less than half of the school board candidates responded to surveys from the News.
  • The 28 who did respond ranged in age from 27 to 80.
  • None of the responding candidates have children currently enrolled in the district.
  • Seven hold doctoral degrees, 13 have master’s degrees, and two have law degrees.
  • Two are former superintendents, one is a current assistant superintendent, five are former DPS board members and one is a retired substitute teacher.

The News puts the blame for the unwieldy 63-candidate ballot on the rushed timing of legislation that created the new school district, authorized the new board, and included $617 million to prevent the old school district — the Detroit Public Schools — from going into bankruptcy. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder said the governor would have preferred to hold a primary election to winnow down the list of candidates, but there wasn’t time

As the candidates try to get some attention for their campaigns, some have banded together into slates. Candidates on the “A+ Team,” “Detroit’s Dream Team,” and the “Freedom Team” have agreed to work cooperatively with the state’s financial review commission, which will need to approve many of the board’s key decisions. Other slates — including the SPEED slate comprised of members of the old DPS board — have vowed to continue fighting state involvement in local schools.

The head of the state-run Education Achievement Authority called on Detroit voters to choose candidates with track records of supporting the city and knocked the dozens of candidates who failed to fill out questionnaires from the district. “If candidates aren’t willing to make the time to do something this basic while they are running, I doubt their commitment to a six-year term,” she wrote.

In other Detroit schools news:

  • The leader of a Detroit charter school that could be shut down for low tests scores argues that closing schools in the bottom 5 percent on state rankings will just “shuffle the deck” and send students from one low-scoring school to another. “If they’re not doing a radical turnaround design, that school will automatically be in the bottom five, and it’s like this domino effect,” he said.
  • A Free Press editor urged voters to approve a tax hike for Wayne County schools. “Look around metro Detroit, at the gross deterioration of our public schools, and ask whether less money is a path to more greatness,” he wrote.
  • The Detroit News, however, is pushing for a no vote, calling the measure a “bad deal” that won’t benefit all districts in the county and would leave charter schools in the cold.
  • The state’s top legal official is going after the pensions of the Detroit school principals who’ve been convicted of bribery.
  • A school choice supporter takes issue with Bridge Magazine’s characterization of white students leaving their own districts to attend whiter districts as the new “white flight.” Studies show that low-income black students are more likely to cross district borders in search of a better school than their white peers, he writes. “Rolling back families’ power to choose by basing enrollment on a child’s home address won’t increase integration.”
  • A business columnist writes that the fines imposed on contractors who failed to hire enough Detroiters for hockey arena construction are proof that city schools need to improve. “How can Michigan make the case to be the 21st-century hub for next-gen automotive technology, and how can it attract the kind of talent that makes its living with its brains, if it fails to shape an environment that can produce enough graduates who are prepared for, and eager to compete for, those jobs?” he writes.
  • When he’s done running Detroit schools, Steven Rhodes plans to start a mediation service.
  • A Detroit News columnist knocks teachers unions for trying to stop charter schools. “All teachers unions, including the Detroit Federation of Teachers … can’t stand that charter schools pull students (and the money that follows them) away from traditional public schools,” she writes.
  • Proceeds from a college basketball game this weekend will benefit Detroit schools.

Across the state:

  • Michigan fourth and eighth graders ranked in the middle of the pack nationally on a rigorous national science test, with last year’s fourth graders earning higher scores than their counterparts who took the exam in 2009. Eighth-grade scores saw a slight dip since the last test.
  • The leader of a new state education commission explains what he hopes an upcoming “listening tour” across the state will accomplish.
  • A Free Press columnist says new rules forcing schools to hold back third graders who aren’t making the grade won’t actually help kids. What would help, she writes: “Money. Resources … Investment in our kids, starting at birth.”
  • Legislation aimed at softening “zero tolerance” discipline policies in Michigan schools has cleared the house and is waiting for senate action.
  • The education policy director at a free market think tank urged Michigan school officials to consider a school funding system — often called “weighted student funding” — that distributes money to schools based on student characteristics. This system, he argues, would ensure that schools with more needy kids get more money.
  • The principal of a Michigan online charter school says the solution to helping teachers who feel demoralized is to give them more flexibility. “If we want to resolve the student zombie apocalypse of the 21st century, inspiration is the key.” he writes. “[Teachers] must be given the latitude to move well beyond teaching to the test. For they are on the front lines and the energy they demonstrate to their students will be given back in kind.”
  • A Democrat running for a seat in the Georgia senate cites the challenges of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority as a reason to oppose a state recovery district in Georgia.

In other news:  

  • Fifteen metro Detroit schools that serve low- to mixed-income students will be chosen to receive a fully funded series of teacher trainings in a program called Playworks that uses games to improve children’s social and emotional learning. To be eligible, schools must send a representative to a “PlayShop” next week. The free program comes courtesy of a $1.14 million grant.
  • An affluent suburban school was on lockdown after a student reported bringing a gun to school. No weapon was found.
  • A former suburban teacher’s aide faces charges for sexual contact with teens.

From Chalkbeat:

Week In Review

Week in review: A summer reunion, budget news and musical history

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Music teacher Quincy Stewart incorporates math, writing and history in his music classes at Detroit's Central High School.

As the schools in the state-run Education Achievement Authority prepare to return next week to the main Detroit school district, we took a look this week at an EAA teacher who uses music to expose his students to African-American history, playing the music of Africa, of slavery, and of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements.

“These children have been robbed by this system, from the cradle until right now. They’ve been miseducated, undereducated and misused … They walk in here and they don’t even know who they are.”

— Quincy Stewart, music teacher, Central High School

Read on for more on this story and the rest of this week’s education news. For those who are students or educators now enjoying summer break, congrats! You made it! EAA and some charter schools have a week or more to go before breaking for the summer.

Also, if you’re available Saturday, stop by the Blight Bootcamp at Central High School where education topics planned for the community discussion will include sessions on kindergarten readiness and creating literacy. Chalkbeat will be moderating a panel on school closures and ways that officials can protect children and communities when schools close their doors.

Music and power

At a time when many districts are cutting arts programs to make room for more core subjects like math and reading, this music teacher shows that schools don’t have to choose between the arts and core subjects. They can blend them together.

Two boards and a reunion

  • With the state-run recovery district set to dissolve next Friday, the Detroit school board approved a $5 million agreement to transfer some remaining funds to the main Detroit district.
  • The state district, meanwhile, is seeking an advance on its state aid payments to cover some of its final expenses.
  • The Detroit board brainstormed issues that will be a priority in the next six months. The board intends to hold an off-site retreat in July to begin developing a strategic plan.
  • The board plans to meet tonight to consider asking voters in November whether taxpayer money should fund the Detroit Pistons move downtown. A vote is not likely tonight.

Dollars and sense

In Detroit

  • Two major foundations soon plan to release the details of an effort to expand early childhood education and services in Detroit. “We know we need to increase access, create more centers and more seats, and develop highly skilled teachers,” one leader of the effort said. “How do we co-locate more family services in schools so they become more like community hubs?”
  • When the billionaire Amazon.com founder asked for suggestions for charitable donations, he heard from Madonna who suggested several Detroit organizations. Among them: A northwest Detroit charter school and a boxing gym that tutors Detroit kids.
  • As the main district tries to recruit families displaced by charter school closings, it’s hosting an enrollment fair next week.
  • The district is also ramping up its teacher hiring efforts — but so are some of the charter school networks competing for the same candidates.
  • A Detroit program offers parents a small stipend to work in classrooms and support students and their families.
  • Ann Arbor teachers this week donated supplies to Detroit teachers.
  • One of the Detroit principals convicted of taking bribes last year is fighting to stay out of prison.

Across the state

  • The state of Michigan has no idea how many educators are violating the law by running schools without the proper certification, but the number could be in the hundreds.
  • The state law that bars schools from starting classes before Labor Day is facing mounting political pushback.
  • A former British Prime Minister praised U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, telling her at a western Michigan business forum: “Madam Secretary, let me say how much I admire your stance on school choice.”
  • This western Michigan charter school wants more flexibility to serve students who have been suspended.
  • Students in a suburban district have said goodbye to their beloved therapy dog

 

Week In Review

Week in review: A man, a plan, a budget — and a look at private donations to public schools

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit Pre-K teacher Candace Graham talks to a student on the playground at the Carver STEM Academy. She says her students get "left out a lot" because the school's two other preschool classrooms are in the PNC Grow Up Great program.

We took a look this week at the challenge facing high-poverty districts like Detroit that rely on corporate and philanthropic donations to pick up where the government leaves off. Districts are happy to accept gifts from private donors but that can mean some kids get benefits that others do not. That’s why a west side elementary school has two pre-K classrooms in a popular arts and science enrichment program — and one pre-K that can’t participate.

“We get left out a lot. It’s unfortunate because I feel like all the kids should have the opportunities.”

— Candace Graham, pre-kindergarten teacher, Carver STEM Academy

Scroll down for more on that story and the rest of the week’s education news. The week included the new superintendent’s first school board meeting and a surprising announcement from the University of Michigan that it will extend free tuition to students whose families make less than $65,000 a year. That’s more than half of state residents.

Also, check out this story by Bridge Magazine, our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner. It highlights a provision in the city teachers contract that could be exacerbating the teacher shortage.

 

A tale of two pre-Ks

All of the pre-K students at Detroit’s Carver STEM Academy are getting a quality education but some kids get to experience a program that shows how much more is possible.

A man, a plan and a budget

Across the state

On DeVos

  • A News columnist says if President Trump and his education secretary Betsy DeVos want to promote school choice, they should stay away from local and state education decisions.
  • The New York Times takes a look at the private western Michigan Christian schools that educated DeVos and her children in search of insight into her policy agenda, as well as a charter school founded by her family.

In other news

Awards and accolades