Michigan Capitol Confidential on Nov. 16 published a story discussing the Berkley School District's resolution against charter public schools. The district's claims were called "inaccurate." The following is a response from Berkley School District School Board President Marc Katz.
I write in response to your article dated November 16, 2011, which states that the Berkley School Board's Local Control Resolution "struck out" in claiming that the proposed charters and cyber schools are for-profit, that they will or may be located out of state, and that they have no expectation of transparency or accountability. To your points and please correct me if I am not accurate in three areas where I believe your assertions are distinctions without a difference:
A.) Your article states that the proposed charter and cyber schools are "non-profits" not "for-profits." The fact of the matter is that non-profits will engage a for-profit vendor out of state to which Michigan dollars will flow. Most charters make in excess of $1000 per pupil profit. That looks like for-profit to me. Making matters worse, that profit goes to the corporation not back into additional student support.
B.) Your article states that "governing bodies will be located in Michigan and...must have five to nine 'local' residents who are appointed by the authorizer". The authorizers for these proposed schools can and will be located anywhere in the state. For example, an authorizer in the UP can operate numerous charters or cybers in southeast Oakland County. Regarding the "five to nine 'local' residents", if a cyber school draws students from all across the state, how "local" are these residents?
C.) Michigan has the largest number of for-profit charters in the nation already. A large number of them contract with vendors known as "educational management organizations" (out-of-state EMOs) who hire their teachers, administrators, and many other employees. None of these employees' compensation is listed on any transparency reports. Your article [quotes Gary Naeyaert, a spokesman for The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University] that these charters and cybers must "adhere to EVERY LAW AND REGULATION" (his emphasis). In practice, again, EMOs are not required to report profits, expenditures, lease agreements, or the compensation of their employees. So, I suppose these new forms do adhere to the laws...they just found a way around them while still being able to say they comply with them. As a side note, the fact that Berkley contracted its food service program 30 years ago is hardly germane to a conversation about contracting educational services to out-of-state vendors.
I have been elected by local residents for twenty-one and a half (21.5) years in the Berkley School District. I was not appointed by some authorizer in some remote part of the state. As a locally-elected officials, our board members talk to residents in grocery stores, hold meetings in the community in which we were elected/serve students, and attend innumerable school events. Simply put: parents know where to find us...and do. Asserting that an authorizer in a different part of the state and an out-of-state vendor will serve our State's citizens in the same capacity as our locally elected school board members is preposterous. The Mackinac Center has long espoused transparency and accountability. Frankly, local school boards spend more time ensuring accountability regarding a textbook adoption than the Legislature has on bills that will result in the wild west for schools state wide. I am astonished that the Mackinac Center's rhetoric of accountability and transparency departs so dramatically from the practice of this legislation. From all I have seen and heard, the currently proposed school "reform" bills fail miserably on four counts: accountability, transparency, equity, and quality. You and I should be in full agreement on the need for these things for our public dollars. Apparently we are not. Please let me know if I am wrong.
Berkley School Board Retiring President