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State-run "turnaround school district" coming to an end, schools to rejoin Detroit district

From left to right: EAA chancellor Veronica Confirme, DPSCD interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, DPSCD transition manager Steven Rhodes.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
From left to right: EAA chancellor Veronica Confirme, DPSCD interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, DPSCD transition manager Steven Rhodes.

What remains of the Education Achievement Authority will merge with Detroit’s public schools district, then dissolve next July.

That’s when the EAA, Governor Snyder’s fumbled attempt at a state-run “turnaround district” for the lowest-performing schools, will finally cease to exist.

Making that transition as smooth as possible will be the mission between now and July, according to Detroit Public Schools Community District transition manager Steven Rhodes.

“We have formed a transition team to transition the EAA students, schools and resources to DPSCD,” Rhodes said Monday.

It sounds simple enough, but many of the details still need to be worked out.

For one thing, the number of schools to be returned. The EAA took 15 former Detroit Public Schools when it launched in 2012.

But one of those schools, Phoenix Multicultural Academy, has closed, and the EAA has let charter operators run three other schools.

“We have to work out what the precise plans are with the charters,” Rhodes said.

Another thing that hasn’t been decided is what will happen to EAA teachers and staff? Will they transition to DPSCD, and work under that district’s terms of employment?

“We want to be clear and upfront, this is just the start of the conversation,” said EAA chancellor Veronica Conforme.

Conforme and Rhodes also announced an agreement that settles a debt disagreement between the two districts—although that, too, leaves a few questions unanswered.

This summer, the EAA and DPSCD feuded over rent and services payments. DPSCD said it was owed more than $14 million, the EAA said it thought those debt payments were canceled when the state Legislature stepped in to restructure the near-bankrupt Detroit Public Schools, creating a new district.

Apparently that latter view is now the accepted one, according to the agreement reached by Conforme and Rhodes, which says "Our [EAA] understanding is DPSCD was formed on July 1, 2016, therefore past due expenses to DPS would go to Michigan Department of Treasury and not the DPSCD."

However, the EAA has agreed to pay DPSCD $2.25 million in rent and expenses for the current school year.

Rhodes, who had previously maintained that the EAA owed at least $12 million in rent, admitted it’s a “compromise.”

But he said that the EAA had made “extraordinary improvements” to school buildings, and the agreement merely recognizes the schools are being returned “in a much improved condition.”

The EAA could not immediately put an exact price tag on those capital improvements, nor provide a detailed account of what they are.

According to the debt agreement, the district is still working with two state agencies to “review its investments in facilities and technology,” and that a “preliminary analysis indicates the combination of rent payments and capital investments is in excess of $9 million more than the rent obligations.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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