Detroit, Education — October 2, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Education Achievement Authority Board decries lack of public involvement that they make nearly impossible


With the departure of the disgraced former Chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority John Covington, the EAA Board has been searching for a replacement. In the meantime, they hired Veronica Conforme to take the reins (along with the $325,000/year salary) as the interim Chancellor. Conforme, who had been consulting with the EAA since January, was the chief operating officer, chief financial officer and deputy chief schools officer for the New York City Department of Education. Before assuming her new role, she was a finalist for superintendent of Orleans Parish public schools in Louisiana but withdrew her name for consideration.

Under Conforme’s “leadership”, the EAA sent out incredibly deceptive mailings to parents of students (and some non-parents!) in surrounding school districts with the intent to fool them into believing their kids had been assigned to EAA schools.

Conforme’s contract was originally only through the end of July. However, the Board had not selected a new Chancellor by then so she worked without a contract until, a month later, she was given an extension to October 1st at the Board’s August 26th meeting.

Throughout the process of hiring an new leader for the EAA, the Board said it wanted community involvement in the process. This was their rhetoric. The reality suggests that was not at all something that they were actually interested in.

If you were an interested community member but unable to attend EAA Board meetings which happen during normal work hours, you’d probably want to have a look at meeting minutes. That, however, is not something you would be able to do because Board meeting minutes haven’t been posted since their July meeting and there is no place on the EAA website where they are available.

Perhaps you would be interested in learning more about the four candidates who interviewed for the job. The meeting where they were interviewed, which took place on Monday, September 8th at 10:30 a.m., was announced late on Friday, September 5th. If you had five hours to devote to it, you could watch the interview meeting online. However, the although the Board members were given an extensive package of information about each of the candidates, this information is not available online, either.

Perhaps you would have wanted to attend the September 10th meeting where a decision was supposed to have been made. The video replay of the interview meeting was not posted online until ONE HOUR before and the announcement for the special meeting on the 10th was made at the last minute, as well.

At the September 10th meeting, many of the Board members decried the lack of public involvement despite what seems to be an intentional effort to make that all but impossible. They also mention a “plan” on how to move forward that they said agreed upon at their August meeting. However, no such plan was, in fact, agreed upon at that meeting.

Because of the lack of community involvement and the fact that they had only interviewed each candidate for one hour, Board member Shirley Stancato moved that the three Board members who had interviewed the four finalist candidates give their top two picks and that the decision on their final selection be made on October 1st. This, she said, would give them time for more extensive interviews with Conforme and Carlton D. Jenkins, superintendent of Saginaw Public Schools, their final two candidates, with involvement from “the public, teachers, administrators, and parents”. This motion carried. However, from that point until today, there has still been absolutely no effort to involve the public in any part of the process.

The Board met on October 1st (yesterday) and, once again, they punted despite having committed to making the decision by then. Instead, they extended Conforme’s contract until the end of the year and then adjourned without making a final decision. The extension of her contract, itself, was agreed to “with little discussion”.

It’s all but impossible to know what is going on with the EAA Board and how they are deciding on their next steps. Despite the turmoil within the EAA over the past year, they have only met eight times in 2014 and three of those times were in the past month with several of the meetings being called as “special meetings” with little advance notice and one lasting only 40 minutes. Between mid-March and mid-June during the time when John Covington was fired resigned, they didn’t meet at all. Meeting agendas are posted but not the minutes from the meetings. Meeting notices are put out at the last minute and important information that the public would need in order to have meaningful input is not available.

From the outside, it looks very much like public input is the last thing that they want. Further, it looks very much like Veronica Conforme has already been chosen to remain in the Chancellor position and they are simply drawing out the process until Superintendent Jenkins withdraws his name. He does, after all, have a job and being part of this process jeopardizes his ability to do it with the full support of the Sagninaw schools community.

The EAA – Governor Rick Snyder’s failed educational experiment on Detroit students – has been a complete debacle from its inception. Not only are the schools in the EAA failing to show significant academic improvement, the “leadership” of the EAA Board is almost comical in its incompetence. The Board is actually supposed to have 11 members but three positions are currently unfilled and members often don’t even bother to show up for the meetings, opting to instead “phone it in”.

I mean that literally, by the way. They “attend” the meetings by phone. And Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, a member of the Board, hasn’t attended a single meeting this year, even by phone.

One more thing: the intralocal agreement that created the EAA has this explicit rule:

7.10 Adoption of Rules and Procedures.
Before promulgating a rule or adopting a procedure, policy, or statement of policy, the Authority shall provide advance notice in a manner intended to inform the public and afford the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule, procedure, policy, or statement of policy.

In other words, before the Board acts to “[promulgate] a rule or adopting a procedure, policy, or statement of policy”, they are to give advance notice. So, they aren’t able to decide to something like this at a meeting and then actually do it at that same meeting. This rule has been blatantly ignored repeatedly, particularly throughout the Chancellor hiring process.

This is Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, supposedly put in place to turn around our worst-performing schools and get Detroit’s kids out of the education hole they have been for so long. Instead of a full-court press to make things right, what we have is a catastrophe of poor administrative leadership, an unproven experimental model that isn’t working, and, what is increasingly apparent, an EAA Board that is unprofessional, lacks transparency, and that has abdicated its role of providing the overall leadership something of this magnitude and that’s this important demands.

The Education Achievement Authority is Michigan’s shame.