Hinoki International School shut down to financially benefit conventional district
LIVONIA — After putting the popular Hinoki International School in a box, Livonia Public Schools has now, in a phrase, thrown away the key.
The school board voted 6 to 1 to end the charter public school’s authorization — one year before it was to expire. Without a charter authorization, Hinoki is ineligible for state funding grants to function as a free public school.
"The contract with the school carried with it various provisions under which the contract would be revoked. Included is a provision calling for automatic revocation if the Academy has lost more than 50 percent of its student enrollment from the previous school year,” says Board President Mark Johnson.
Failing to find a replacement building in Livonia in a matter of weeks, the Hinoki board elected not to accept students for the 2014-15 school year. The school was forced to find a new building after Livonia pulled the school’s lease in May.
Under the authorization, Hinoki was required to operate in a facility within the boundaries of the Livonia school district. It was unable to find an adequate space on the short notice.
At the same time Livonia Public Schools ended the lease, it announced the formation of a carbon copy Japanese language immersion program to start in the same building in the fall. Livonia hired nine of Hinoki’s teachers so far, according to Superintendent Randy Liepa.
Liepa also says 128 students have enrolled in the program. Hinoki was anticipating nearly 200 students for the fall. Livonia gets $8,049 per pupil in state foundation allowance funding which is $1,030,272 total. Liepa also anticipates donations. The Japanese government supplied Hinoki with some of its resources.
Eileen McDonnell was the only board member who voted against revoking Hinoki’s charter. She said she received an email from a Hinoki parent that she read shortly before the meeting. The email said that Hinoki found another building but one outside the district.
“ … [T]he email contained many questions and requests. I felt that I needed more time and information in order to vote on this issue. I just couldn't vote yes on something with having so many doubts; in my opinion it wasn't the right thing to do," said McDonnell.
According to Mark Eitrem, supervisor of the Public Academies Unit for the Michigan Department of Education, Hinoki can remain dormant as a non-profit corporation until another authorizer is found. Hinoki’s board president, Anne Hoogarth said the school has three interested parties for the 2015-16 school year.
Eitrem said Hinoki has 18 months to find a new authorizer before it would have to liquidate its assets. The school has a cash balance plus it owns furniture, books and supplies. Currently, those are in storage.
Hinoki and Livonia received $550,000 in state and federal charter authorization grants. Under the terms of those grants, Livonia is prohibited from retaining Hinoki’s assets acquired with those funds, according to Eitrem.
Livonia is one of 14 conventional school districts in Michigan serving as a charter school authorizer. Most charter school authorizers are universities.
When asked about Livonia’s decision to revoke Hinoki's charter, Eitrem was unwavering.
“I am not pleased by how the process unfolded,” he said.
Hinoki opened its doors in 2010 with 14 students.
A video about the events with Hinoki: