The table was set, the supporters were there and prepared, and the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents in Ypsilanti were set to act on a resolution to end their contractual relationship with the increasingly controversial and toxic Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). Though it currently involves only a dozen Detroit schools now, Republicans want to take this state takeover district statewide.
The critical timing for making this decision and voting on how to move forward with their partnership with the EAA was set in the contract with the State of Michigan. EMU had until December 31, 2014 to give notice to the State if they wanted to dissolve their oversight of the EAA and as this was the last scheduled meeting of the year for the appointed Board of Regents.
The public comment segment of the Board meeting, which was the first item on the agenda, included seventeen people who had asked in advance of the meeting to speak. Fifteen of the seventeen people allowed to make public comments were there to address their opposition to the EAA and were all given two minutes. This became a point of angst among the capacity crowd who attended this meeting who they were mostly there for only one of two reasons; either to make a public comment about their displeasure of the failing EAA or support those who were there. There was massive support among the meeting attendees for EMU to end their arrangement with the EAA. The public comments were respectful, reasoned and well-documented.
A good example of the gambling mentality is the EAA computer learning software debacle. It was rolled out as the miracle software that would improve test scores across the board. They assumed that private corporations knew better how to educate kids than professionally trained teachers.
– Mike Rains, retired teacher
EMU President Sue Martin publicly supported a resolution to end their interlocal agreement with the EAA during the Board of Regents meeting and was met with cheers from the crowd. However, when she read the resolution and asked for someone on the Board to second it, the Regents went quiet and the assembled crowd reacted disapprovingly and loudly.
EMU Regent James Webb, a Governor Rick Snyder appointee who will serve until 2020 offered up a new resolution that would basically maintain the status quo and would allow the University to revisit their relationship a year from now. That motion was floated but did not receive a second either. At that point some of those in attendance exercised their right to civil disobedience.
I hope you will take this action today to begin to restore our University’s reputation as a champion of public education. Severing our affiliation with the EAA recognizes that reform efforts are best developed by educators, parents, students, teachers and school administrators, not politicians.
– Steven Camron, retired Associate Professor at EMU
At that point, approximately 20 people walked to the front of the room and laid on the floor pounding their feet and hands on the ground, chanting for the Board to reconsider. This demonstration grew louder and, after five minutes of sustained civil disobedience, the Regents walked out of the meeting without calling the meeting to an end. The meeting, however, was definitely over.
Many of those who attended today’s Board of Regents meeting gave impassioned comments, using facts to underscore the importance of removing Eastern Michigan University from this troubled charter system in the city of Detroit. Representatives from the EMU faculty, student body, alumni and other interested parties from Detroit came forward to talk about the many well-known issues that continue to plague the EAA. They pointed out how, while the EAA is demonstrably failing Detroit children, Michigan lawmakers continue to ignore what are now indisputable facts surrounding the EAA and have become apologists for this failed model.
Among those making public comments was retired teacher Mike Rains. According to Rains, “A good example of the gambling mentality is the EAA computer learning software debacle. It was rolled out as the miracle software that would improve test scores across the board. They assumed that private corporations knew better how to educate kids than professionally trained teachers. It didn’t work for months on end. It should have been examined by EMU which the experts and consultants. It was not.”
Rains went on to emphasize that, “The ACLU had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get a hold of e-mails between the EAA and the software company that showed in their own words that the software was glitchy and half baked.”
I respectfully request that this Board direct our EMU community towards a post-EAA world. Unfortunately, I do not have a pot of gold to offer like Governor Rick Snyder, a pot of gold he never delivered. But, if it were as only as simple as trading for a vote, my professional integrity would have me offering you my resignation for a vote to immediately terminate the interlocal agreement that establishes the Educational Achievement Authority. But, it is not that simple.
– Dr. Steve Wellinski
Steven Camron, a retired Associate Professor at Eastern Michigan University began his remarks by stating, “Thank you for the opportunity to address you today on the importance of severing legal ties with the Educational Achievement Authority. I hope you will take this action today to begin to restore our University’s reputation as a champion of public education. Severing our affiliation with the EAA recognizes that reform efforts are best developed by educators, parents, students, teachers and school administrators, not politicians.”
Dr. Steve Wellinski, an EMU associate professor of Education at EMU and leader in the fight to right this wrongful and hurtful relationship with the State and the EAA, was full-throated and unapologetic, stating, “I respectfully request that this Board direct our EMU community towards a post-EAA world. Unfortunately, I do not have a pot of gold to offer like Governor Rick Snyder, a pot of gold he never delivered. But, if it were as only as simple as trading for a vote, my professional integrity would have me offering you my resignation for a vote to immediately terminate the inter-local agreement that establishes the Educational Achievement Authority. But, it is not that simple.”
Dr. Wellinski went on to add that, “Today your first priority has to be safeguarding the EMU community by separating from the EAA madness.”
Obviously, the Board of Regents did not have the courage or vision to recognize what the crowd gathered at this meeting clearly represented. That they offered no defense of their decision not release themselves legally from the EAA and the State of Michigan speaks volumes about this appointed Board of Regents and it may ultimately lead to a drastic decrease in their student population.
Many that spoke publicly today spoke proudly of their affiliation with EMU. Most of the speakers were alumni. Most of them proud of their connection to the heritage of this University. And all of them were concerned that this relationship with the EAA is damaging the storied and highly regarded Department of Education at EMU, an institution that has always enjoyed a sterling reputation as a leading choice for those who want a degree in education here in Michigan and across the country. Many spoke of a tarnishing of EMU’s history and leadership, and they were right.
Let me take this a step further by saying that when something is tarnished, it can be brought back to life, shined, polished and renewed. It may take hard work and intense effort, but it can happen. I’m suggesting that unless EMU finds a way to divest from the EAA, the tarnishing will be a stain, and it’s rare for a stain to be removed forever.
And let’s not forget about the children who may ended up being the generation that were never given a proper education, a right guaranteed by the State constitution. The worst part is that this never had to happen.
[Photos by Tony Trupiano]