The Eastern Michigan University board of regents voted Friday to withdraw from its inter-local agreement with Detroit Public Schools, which authorized the state-reform district the Education Achievement Authority. The withdrawal will take effect June 30, 2017 — at which time DPS would either need to find another partner authorizer in order to keep the EAA going, or, as is more likely, it will cease to exist.
For a quick primer: The EAA was announced to the public in May 2011 and began in September of that year. Originally, it was supposed to be a statewide district for the state's lowest performing schools. It, however, only went so far as Detroit. Twelve DPS schools and three charter schools were placed in the EAA. The district was advertised as a recovery district and was created through an inter-local agreement been EMU's board of regents and then-DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts.
From the beginning the EAA has been a touchy topic. It lacks public accountability: the board is comprised of appointees by Gov. Rick Snyder, then-EM Roberts and the EMU regents. It takes funds away from DPS: since state funds are allotted on a per pupil basis, the removal of 12 schools from the districts greatly deceases DPS's overall funding. It hired heavily from Teach for America: during the 2012-13 school year nearly 30 percent of the district's staff came from TFA, a controversial teaching program, which has been accused of pushing traditional teachers out of the classroom and only comes with five and a half-weeks of training. Its curriculum was experimental: EAA classrooms use a tech-heavy curriculum called BUZZ, which had never been used before elsewhere.
These factors have created a tense situation where EMU's board of regents have been pressured to withdraw from the inter-local agreement since the EAA's inception. In December the board was expected to vote on the EAA, however, at last minute decided to scrap the vote.
The board's decision today was somewhat anticipated. In December — following the skipped vote — Gov. Snyder made a statement saying he was "open" to ending the EAA. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader (R) Arlan Meekhof, told the Detroit News that in order to get Democratic support for Gov. Snyder's $715 million "DPS rescue plan," they would be willing to get rid of the EAA.
“It’s gone. We’re not going to do the EAA again,” Meekhof told The Detroit News Wednesday.
This statement was followed by one from the reform-district's own chancellor, Veronica Conforme, who said she too believed the EMU regents should vote to withdraw from the inter-local agreement (a move that likely ends the district she currently runs).
"I encourage the board members to vote to end the interlocal agreement," Conforme said in a statement Thursday. "This saga has gone on for far too long and has made our teachers, students and parents feel like political pawns. I recognize the interlocal agreement has negatively impacted both our students and the university in many ways and has not allowed for our long-term success. The founding governance structure of the EAA lacks stability and is an unsustainable model."
The founding governance structure of the EAA is one that is often credited to the DPS EM Roy Roberts, however, is in fact connected to Gov. Snyder.
At a 2014 EMU regents meeting, Regent Jim Stapleton shared details about the actual genesis of the district. According to Stapleton, in April 2011, two months before the EAA plan was announced to the public, he joined the governor and many of his advisors — including Snyder aide Richard Baird, then-Snyder chief-of-staff Dennis Muchmore, and "volunteer education advisor" Richard McLellan — at a Ann Arbor chop house. While the governor left the dinner early, Baird proceeded to detail plans for the EAA, and asked if Stapleton and in turn EMU, would be willing to sign on as an authorizer. According to Stapleton, when he spoke with then-DPS EM Roberts two days later, the latter had no clue about this plan.
Facts like this are reasons why critics of the EAA are pleased to hear about its end but are still frustrated. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) released a statement before Friday's vote in which she detailed these frustrations. "While those of us truly invested in the success of the Detroit Public School (DPS) system have spoken out against the EAA since its inception, it is frustrating that Gov. Snyder decided to end this only when the malfeasance was so great, and the EAA’s failings so shameful, that it would do further damage to his reputation not to pull the plug," she wrote.