News Story

Grosse Pointe Restricts Nonresident Students, Board Member Joins ‘Charter School Segregation’ Chorus

He reports district near Detroit now walking back its restrictive policies

Grosse Pointe School board member Christopher Profeta posted a tweet about a recent media story claiming U.S. charter schools are “among the nation's most segregated,” with minority students “vastly over-represented.”

“US charter schools put growing numbers in racial isolation,” Profeta wrote.

It’s a new twist on the ongoing criticism of public charter schools. Once criticized for cherry-picking the best students, now the complaint is they take in too many minorities.

But there is some irony in a Grosse Pointe public school official expressing alarm about alleged segregation. After all, his district has taken significant steps to restrict students from other communities from attending its schools.

Grosse Pointe’s median household income is $92,500 and just 3.7 percent of its residents are below the poverty line, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

In 2016-17, 75 percent of the students at Grosse Pointe Public Schools were white. The city is eight miles away from Detroit, but its school district admitted just five Detroit students in 2016-17. Grosse Pointe had 7,947 students that year.

By comparison, Harper Woods is four miles north of Grosse Pointe and a little more than 12 miles away from Detroit. The Harper Woods School District had 1,800 students in 2016-17, of which 194 were from Detroit.

Grosse Pointe Public Schools is one of the few districts that does not participate in the state School of Choice law that allows students to attend a nearby district if it has space. But Grosse Pointe goes much further than that to protect its borders.

In 2012, it was reported that Grosse Pointe paid private investigators $8,000 to see whether students suspected of not residing in the district were enrolled. In 2013, Grosse Pointe Deputy Superintendent Chris Fenton, who earned $155,153 that year, told Bridge Magazine that he sat in his car outside suspected nonresident students’ homes on early mornings to see whether a student comes out of the front door. Fenton told the news site that he even peered through windows and has asked to see children’s bedrooms.

Today, the school district’s website lists data on the number of residences it investigated. Along with that, it lists the number of nonresident students it caught and how many cases involved a tip line it offers residents to report any suspected violations of the residency requirements. “All tips are investigated,” the website assures residents. There have been 104 tips thus far in 2017-18, already exceeding the 2016-17 total of 100.

In the light of these actions, Michigan Capitol Confidential asked Profeta whether it is ironic for a Grosse Pointe school official to cite the "charter schools are segregated" narrative. In an email response he said:

“Back in September we had parents come to the board to ask us to streamline our administration's procedures for verifying residency. I stated publicly then that I felt we should get rid of the anonymous tip line. We are currently working on revisions and will be presenting them to the full board at our meeting on December 11 at 7:00 pm. So far only one board member has spoken out against these measures.

“Prior to me joining the board, members approved a policy revision that would allow the children of out-of-district staff members to enroll as part of an effort to both provide a benefit to staff and encourage them to move to the district.

“We have also recently passed a Strategic Plan which states that one of our goals is to ‘embrace diversity.’ To help meet that goal, our administration has worked on and presented to the community a diversity plan that aims to create a more inclusive and welcoming school culture.

“I would add, with regard to school of choice, we vote every year as a board whether or not to participate in school of choice. I have been on the board one year and voted against participating and plan to do so again. I do not see it as having anything to do with racial segregation since most studies show that school of choice does not help integrate schools. I personally am opposed to school of choice because I believe it drains money out of schools in low income and minority communities because students leave them and take the state funding with them.

“My original tweet was in response to SB 574, which takes money out of traditional public schools and gives it to for profit online and charter schools that don't face the same costs and don't have the same transparency requirements. I don't think that's fair, which is likely part of the reason why it seems to be stalled in the House.

“I know education reformers often make the argument that you can't just ‘throw money at schools’ and hope they will do better, but in the case of school of choice and SB 574, I'm worried that we are actually taking money away from traditional public schools and expecting them to do better. That is just my personal opinion.

“In Grosse Pointe, we are working very hard to make our schools and our community a welcoming and inclusive place. The links I sent you show that. There is always more to be done, but we are working hard.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.