Livonia Public Schools works to hide information; will gain hundreds of thousands of dollars
A parent of the besieged Hinoki International School is wondering why the state overlooked Livonia Public Schools when it was compiling its list of charter authorizers that are “at risk” for opening future schools.
Livonia conducted what amounted to a hostile takeover of Hinoki when it abruptly pulled the school’s building lease and then cancelled its authorization when the school was unable to hold onto students for lack of a facility in the fall.
In a letter to State Superintendent Michael Flanagan, Hinoki parent Andrew Gillman outlined the case against Livonia, stating that the district ignored the wishes of the Hinoki board when it gave the charter public school nearly no time to consider a plan to become a conventional school.
“(Superintendent Randy) Liepa and the district he represents are unsuitable to act as the authorizer of future charter schools," Gillman writes. "The district failed in its duty to serve and protect the school it authorized, despite receiving state funds explicitly for that purpose."
Within weeks, Livonia created a carbon-copy Japanese language immersion program, hiring some of Hinoki’s teachers and soliciting its students to enroll. Little is known as to what prompted the sudden move. Since state aid follows students, Livonia will receive an allowance of $8,049 per student, according to the Michigan Department of Education.
The district removed the minutes of the May 29 board of education meeting from its website when the issue first came up. It also broke with tradition by failing to videotape the session. The minutes were obtained through a Freedom of Information request but reveal little; only three sentences describe the Hinoki discussion as part of a meeting that lasted three hours. The district has not published minutes from the June 2 and July 28 meetings at which Hinoki was also discussed.
Parents with students formerly in the school are upset about the district's actions. They feel betrayed by the district and have circulated a cartoon about the situation showing the children being used to fill in the budget deficit of Livonia Public Schools (see nearby).
State Superintendent Flanagan did not discuss Livonia in a WJR radio interview Aug. 15 on at-risk charter authorizers. The list has come under fire for holding charter authorizers to a different standard than conventional districts.
Flanagan says he plans to address the discrepancy in 2015, when he will look at all schools, charter and conventional alike, and put poor performers in a “state reform district.”
He said he sees a need for charters when they are done well.
“Just because an authorizer has a portfolio of schools that is in the bottom 10 percent, but they are improving them, those schools should stay open. A lot of those schools are taking a heavy lift,” he said, reminding listeners that the list puts pressure on authorizers to make sure all schools in their portfolios are on a path of improvement.
A video of the situation with Hinoki: