Answers

Leaders answer seven questions about Detroit’s new school district

Detroit Public Schools Manager Steven Rhodes answers questions about Detroit's new school district (Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat)

During a raucous public hearing, interrupted by hecklers, State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo and DPS leaders Steven Rhodes and Alycia Meriweather tonight attempted to answer some of the questions that are looming over the Detroit Public Schools.

Among them: Will the district get a new name? Will it hire uncertified teachers? Will class sizes get any smaller?

Not all of the answers provided were well received. With the governor’s signature this week on a DPS rescue package that will transfer all of the district’s schools and contracts to a new-debt free district, emotions were running high in the Renaissance High School auditorium during a two-hour budget and legislative briefing attended by more than 200 teachers, parents and community members.

Two hecklers had to be removed from the room while Gay-Dagnogo tried to encourage cooperation in the wake of a tough partisan fight. The bills signed by the governor this week had no support from Detroiters or Democrats in the state house.

“Our feelings – and rightfully so – are very hurt. I cried yesterday,” Gay Dagnogo said. “This has been a struggle … An emotional struggle but at some point for the sake of our kids, we have to use some form of diplomacy so that we can get what’s best for them. No, I don’t like it! … But right now, it is what it is, and so we have to govern ourselves accordingly.”

Much of the presentation from Rhodes and Meriweather will soon be posted on the district’s website, officials say, including a budget for next year that assumes a 1.8 percent drop in student enrollment, but until then, here are some of the answers offered tonight:

On what the new district will be called:

“Many of you may not know that the district now, the Detroit Public Schools, is just its public name. It has a more formal name — “The school district of the City of Detroit.” In legal papers and in law, that’s what you’ll see it referred to as. The new school district also has formal name — Detorit Public Schools Community District. But it’s going to have a public name and we are going to solicit your input into what name to give it. The details of that will come out shortly and we will ask you for your participation.” — Rhodes

On who will run the new district:

“If we want ideal, strong, robust candidates (for school board), we want to make sure they know that the deadline (to file for candidacy) is Friday, July 22nd.”
— Gay-Dagnogo

On school closings:

“Any schools that have been in the bottom five percent of (Michigan) schools for 3 of the past 4 years (could be closed). We did meet with the state school reform office yesterday … They did indicate that the new (school ranking) list will not be out until September however we have talked and discussed about creating a moratorium to insure that we don’t have school closures that will create a financial deficit or interrupt instruction.” — Gay-Dagnogo

On class sizes:

Meriweather says class size targets will remain at 38 kids in middle school and high school, less in lower grades – but teachers in grades k-8 will get four prep periods a week – up from two this year.

On uncertified teachers:

“We’re not going to do that. The whole country would be outraged if a pilot took off a plane with people on board and they had no training. We have 46,000-plus passengers whose life is in our hands. We need the most qualified, most certified, best people teaching our kids.” — Meriweather

On when the money from the state will arrive:

The first checks will start rolling in July 15.

On Rhodes’ future with the district:

“My contract as of now expires on September 30th. There will be a transition manager until the new school board takes over on January 1st so I expect at some point the governor will want to know if I’m willing to stay in October, November and December. This is a conversation we have yet to have and so stay tuned.” — Rhodes

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”