Tomorrow, October 23rd at 1:00, the Education Achievement Authority, Gov. Rick Snyder’s failed experiment with Detroit school children, will hold a board meeting at the downtown campus of Wayne County Community College. Following that, at 4:00 p.m., on the campus of the University of Michigan, a public forum will be held called “The Future of Education in Detroit – The Role of Charter Schools, Nonprofits, and the Education Achievement Authority” (flyer is HERE.) Along with the the co-director of the Education Policy Initiative and a charter school CEO, EAA interim Chancellor Veronica Conforme and Dan Varner, State Board of Education member and Chief Executive Officer of Excellent Schools Detroit, are two of the panelists. The forum is being hosted by the Education Policy Initiative.
Let’s take a look at who two of these panelists are.
Veronica Conforme sat on the New York City Schools cabinet and was the Chief Operating Officer. Conforme also worked for the NYC Department of Education where she worked under the leadership of Chancellor Joel Klein who worked under Mayor Bloomberg. During her tenure there, many city schools were closed and new charter schools were opened.
After her work in New York, Ms. Conforme worked as an “Operations Consultant” for the Education Achievement Authority but her salary was $250,000 was not paid by the EAA. It is believed she was paid by The Broad Foundation. She moved to Detroit in January of this and did this work until her appointment as the Interim Chancellor in June.
Outside of her name appearing in the March 2014 EAA Board meeting minutes as a consultant, there has never been any reference to this Conforme or the work that she was doing. At the time of her appointment as Interim Chancellor in June, the EAA Board Chair introduced Conforme as the Chief Operating Officer of the EAA even though at that time this position did not exist within the EAA. She stepped right into the former Chancellor’s salary of $325,000 as well as a $2,000 monthly living allowance as the appointed Interim Chancellor. It’s pretty lucrative gig given that the EAA has just a little over 6,000 students in its 12 direct-run schools. By way of comparison, the New York City School District has 1.1 million students and the chancellor there makes $212,000.
There was no public discussion by the EAA Board as to who would fill this position and no discussion as to what made Ms. Conforme qualified. The salary she would receive was not discussed. After a national search for a new Chancellor for the EAA, Conforme was one of the top two applicants out of four for the position. However, due to the EAA Board’s actions (or lack thereof), Conforme is now the only remaining candidate. A review of the circumstances that led to that can be found HERE and HERE.
As of October 19th, a meeting to decide on how the EAA will move forward in choosing the next chancellor had yet to be held but a meeting for October 23rd (tomorrow) was newly posted last week. This is, coincidentally, earlier in the day of the public forum at U of M. So, when Conforme speaks to the public in Ann Arbor, she may already be the new EAA Chancellor, something that has seemed like a preordained outcome from the start.
Despite calls for more public involvement in the process, the only thing that the public knows about Veronica Conforme are her responses to the 12 interview questions which can be viewed on the live stream or read in the meeting minutes (starting on page 11.) Her resume or application for the position have never been publicly posted.
Now let’s take a closer at Excellent Schools Detroit (ESD) where Dan Varner is the CEO. Here’s Professor Thomas Pedroni from his seminal article discussing the academic failings of the EAA under the “leadership” of former Chancellor John Covington:
Although Excellent Schools Detroit advertises itself to Detroit’s families as an objective source of school data compiled to help families in pinpointing and selecting quality schools for their children, the connections between ESD and the EAA suggest a closer relationship. The current Chair of both EAA administrative boards, Carol Goss, incubated and funded Excellent Schools Detroit in 2010 in her capacity as CEO and President of the Skillman Foundation. Goss, who also served as ESD Chair until December 31, 2013, serves on the three-member board of the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, through which funds are funneled from the Broad Foundation, the Bloomberg Foundation, and others, to the EAA. Five current or recent ESD board members, including EAA Chancellor Covington and Goss, who served as ESD Chair until December 31, 2013, currently serve or have recently served on the EAA board.
In other words, ESD has long championed the EAA and there is a complicated, some would say incestuous, relationship between all of the different groups who have their hands on the purse strings for funding the EAA and other school reform efforts in Detroit. It’s not insignificant that the ESD is promoting the idea of combining all of the various public school groups in Detroit – Detroit Public Schools, the EAA, and a wide array of charter schools – under one umbrella group to be overseen by the Mayor of Detroit.
What you’ll notice about the forum tomorrow in Ann Arbor is that there are no panelists who object to the EAA. In fact, according to my sources, none of the leadership of the School of Education at U of M was even aware that it was going to happen until posters began appearing around their offices and building. What it is, in essence, is a rah-rah, dog-and-pony show for those who wish to take over Detroit Public Schools and who are proponents for the failed model of the EAA.
If you have some time tomorrow afternoon and are in the Ann Arbor area, consider attending the forum and asking some hard questions about how these panelists can even consider expanding on a model that is increasingly proving to be ineffective at best and actually harmful to students in Detroit at the worst.
UPDATE: As an alternative to the Ann Arbor EAA dog-and-pony show, public school advocates will be joined in Detroit tomorrow evening at 5:30 by Democratic candidate for Governor Mark Schauer for an Education Town Hall. Also scheduled to participate are Congressman John Conyers, Jr. and whole variety of public education advocacy all-stars. Click the image below for a larger flyer and click HERE for an agenda.