Three charter schools are facing new uncertainty after Detroit’s school board voted Tuesday to rescind an agreement to allow them to operate for another five years.
The three schools — Stewart Elementary-Middle School, Murphy Elementary-Middle School, and Trix Elementary-Middle School — have been a part of the state-run Education Achievement Authority, which is dissolving this summer. While 11 of the EAA schools are re-joining Detroit’s main school district, the board faces a trickier task in figuring out how to oversee the three that have operated independently.
Just last month, the board agreed to give the schools five-year charters. But at Tuesday night’s meeting, the new Detroit school board voted 4-2 to replace that agreement with a new one, allowing the charter schools to operate for just one year.
At that point, the schools could earn new charters or be absorbed fully into the district. Proponents of the change pointed out that allowing for the students to move into the district sooner could bring in needed funding.
“We have a fiscal responsibility to this district first and foremost,” board member LaMar Lemmons said. “In practical terms, we have a $10 million deficit and those children would bring approximately 10 million dollars back to the district.”
“Most importantly, those children were [Detroit Public Schools] children, they are neighborhood children,” he added.
The board’s decision may bring a new set of problems. One is that the charter management organization that had been overseeing the three schools has left, leaving the school board on the hook to find a new one. At last month’s meeting, the director of the district’s charter school office advised the board to offer a five-year contract, saying that securing a charter management company with only a one-year guarantee would be difficult.
Interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather also warned that absorbing students from the charter schools into the district more quickly would mean having to find additional staff when Detroit is already experiencing a teacher shortage.
Board members Misha Stallworth and Sonya Mays said they remained concerned about those issues and voted against the change on Tuesday. Board President Iris Taylor abstained.
Still, the majority of the board felt compelled to reconsider the charter agreement. They said they wanted the opportunity to check in sooner and make a plan once the district’s new superintendent — set to be named this week or next — is in place.
“It will give us an opportunity to look at the data for one year and then make an educationally sound decision based on that, versus all five years,” said board member Deborah Hunter-Harvill, who proposed the one-year contract. “That’s the basis for me wanting to change.”