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Internal Issues Put International Charter Public School At Risk

Livonia school district voting to approve its own Japanese school, which would uproot existing program

A dispute over the leadership at a Japanese charter public school has turned into a power struggle over who will run the program in the Livonia Public Schools.

Livonia Public Schools is the authorizer of Hinoki International School, but the school district now is moving to start its own Japanese magnet school in the same building used by Hinoki.

The Livonia Public Schools board of education is expected to vote on approval of its own Japanese magnet K-6 school at its meeting today. The school would begin in the 2014-15 school year.

"In our role of authorizer, we have witnessed a struggle for the school to operate in the areas of management and governance," Randy Liepa, superintendent of Livonia Public Schools, said in an email. "We feel one of our key roles is to assure that the students aren't shortchanged as the school continues to exist.

"We have been concerned that the school will not be able to continue under its current circumstances," Liepa said. "We continue to support Hinoki, and are not taking action to reconstitute the board, revoke the charter or disapprove of their new management company. In fact, we encourage Hinoki to grow with its new program and provide opportunities for children. … We have also told their board president that we will continue to support them as the authorizer of their school for the last year of our contract to help them if they wish to continue operating a school."

Anne Hooghart, president of the Hinoki charter school board, said in an email that Liepa is effectively ending the charter school by not renewing the charter's lease in its building.

Hooghart said any school chartered in the Livonia school district must by law be located in the district. She said Liepa said he will not renew Hinoki's lease and that the district has said there are no other vacancies to offer.

"These comments are like a father telling his son that he can have the car keys, but not the car, and then wishing him good luck on his date," Hooghart said.

Ted Delphia, principal of Hinoki, is involved in the dispute. Delphia didn't respond to an email or phone message left for him.

Hooghart said the charter school board has had issues with Delphia and that Delphia has wanted to have Hinoki absorbed by Livonia Public Schools.

"There has been a struggle with management and governance, primarily due to the limited capacity of our founder/principal to properly support the administrative needs of a growing school," Hooghart said. "Hinoki has attempted to remediate Mr. Delphia and supplement his management with new educational service providers (ESPs). Unaccustomed to restrictions or qualified eyes judging his work, Mr. Delphia has resisted such steps, and presumably prefers a solution where he retains full authority. To Dr. Liepa, this constitutes a 'conflict' between the Hinoki school board and Mr. Delphia, and his calculus seems to be 'Hinoki is ineffectually managed, and therefore must join LPS under the leadership of the ineffectual manager.' "

The Hinoki International School opened in September 2010. Its goal is to teach children the best practices of Japanese and American schools. A school official said the district started with 12 students in its first year and now has 136 students from kindergarten to third grade.

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