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Muskegon Heights schools rejects for-profit charter bids in favor of (some) local control

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Updated: Emergency manager says new arrangement will be more economical than charter school company

Muskegon Heights schools will not hire another for-profit charter company to run the district. Instead, the district plans to hire its own superintendent, a staffing company and the intermediate school district in Muskegon County to run schools for the next three years.

Mosaica Education Incorporated and Muskegon Heights schools agreed to part waysat the end of this school year. The company couldn’t make the profit it expected. The district couldn’t afford to pay its teachers without cash advancesfrom the state. It’s been able to keep schools open thanks to a $1.4 million emergency loan from the state.

“I’m just glad that the government of Michigan is trying to help our community 'cause it’s struggling right now,” parent and Muskegon Heights alumni Robert Fletcher said after Monday’s charter board meeting. He’s pleased with the new proposed setup.

He and others, like 2009 graduate Montinique Rone, had heard schools would close at the end of the year.

“I just hope that (with the rumors) the kids don’t get discouraged and leave, because that’s what happened the first time,” Rone said, referring to the summer of 2012, when Mosaica Education was hired. “They was getting false statements about the school closing, and look, it stayed open,” she said.

This time around, the board rejected proposals from two charter companies to run the school district; AccessPoint Educational HR and Innovative Educational Programs LLC. It also rejected a proposal from the state’s Education Achievement Authority and EAGLE Learning, a partnership run by a public school district in Metro Detroit.

The board directed its attorney to draft the legal documents to implement the new setup. The board will hold a special meeting June 25 to approve them and the district's budget for the 2014-15 school year.

“We just think we’re in a better place today,” Arthur Scott, president of Muskegon Heights’ charter school board said. He thinks the new set up will be more economical.

“We don’t have a vendor to worry about. The board is now responsible,” Scott said.

But Muskegon Heights schools is still run by an emergency manager. He will have to sign off on the proposal and plays an oversight role.

Alena Zachery Ross was working for Mosaica, the company that ran schools the last two years. She's staying as superintendent, but as an employee of the charter board.

“The community fell in love with her,” the board’s vice president Carmella Ealom said of Zachery-Ross. “When she talks, they listen. We knew we couldn’t have anybody else come into this district and run because they don’t know our children. They don’t know the parents,” Ealom said.

The board honored Zachery-Ross during the meeting, presenting her with bouquet of red roses and a plaque recognizing her work and dedication over the past two years.

“I think Mosaica did its very best to try to communicate and to find out what the needs were in this community and it’s evident with the success that it’s had,” Zachery-Ross said. But she said it was “very difficult” to make quick adjustments based on the community’s needs. 

“I’m excited,” Zachery-Ross said of the proposed changes, “We’ll be clear as to what our marching orders are. I’ll be able to communicate with someone on site, to be able to know what’s happening on a more frequent basis.”

She said officials at Muskegon Area Intermediate School District are already familiar with the community and feels that will help her and the district succeed. The superintendent of MAISD briefly served as superintendent of Muskegon Heights schools before it got an emergency manager in 2012.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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