Detroit, Education — October 23, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Gov. Snyder’s State School Reform Officer received $100K in tax dollars for “ghost school” she never opened


Yesterday I wrote about a report from the Center for Media and Democracy that showed how 25 proposed charter schools in Michigan received $1.7 million in tax dollars but never actually opened. It turns out that one of those schools was the Detroit College Preparatory Academy, the brainchild or “dream” of a woman named Natasha Baker.

Here’s what Baker’s dream involved from an article in the Metro Times published in 2011:

In 2008, after receiving her master’s degree from Howard University, Baker worked for two years in post-Katrina New Orleans, first as a middle school principal and then as the chief academic officer for FirstLine Schools where she oversaw four charters. All the while she was refining plans for an innovative school she wanted to create, and looking for the right opportunity to launch it.

What she wants to open is a public boarding school.

And she has chosen Detroit, in part because the needs here are so great, as the place where she’s trying to turn that vision into a reality. Detroit College Preparatory Academy (DCPA) would be the first of its kind in Michigan, and only the second in the nation.

A $110,000 planning grant from the Michigan Department of Education — which doled out a total of 26 such grants in 2010 — has allowed Baker to lay the groundwork. An application for charter authorization from Lake Superior State University has been submitted, and a decision should be reached within the next month.

That boarding school never materialized and the last tweet from their @DetroitBoarding twitter account was in June of 2011. It is truly one of CMD’s “ghost schools” that received tax dollars but never opened for business.

But that doesn’t mean that Baker is out of the education business. She went on to join the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in 2012 as the Chief Schools Officer for their Detroit Rising College Prep Schools. In 2013, Emergency Financial Manager Roy S. Roberts announced that she had been appointed to the position of Chief Innovation Officer of Charter Schools in DPS.

Then, on January 5th of this year, Baker became the Deputy Superintendent for the Division of Education Services in the Department of Education and the State School Reform Officer in the office of the State School Reform/Redesign Office (SSRRO). When Governor Rick Snyder moved the SSRRO to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (from the Department of Education) in March, Baker went with it and is still the State School Reform Officer now. In that position, she is in charge of bringing up the academic performance of the state’s schools that are in the bottom 5% in terms of academic achievement. In many cases in the past, this has involved a state takeover (read: Emergency Manager) of local school districts that are deemed to be “failed”. It was the SSRRO that had the exclusive contract with Gov. Snyder’s failed experiment with Detroit children, the Education Achievement Authority, to run schools in the city.

Who knows? Maybe she’ll make enough money in her new position to pay back taxpayers the $110,000 they gave her to open that boarding school she never actually opened.

Adding… I am not necessarily suggesting that Natasha Baker set out to scam taxpayers out of their money. I’m sure she’s a very nice lady and that her motives are pure. But here’s the thing: when businesses start out, they take out LOANS, they aren’t handed a pile of free money to see if they can make it work. While I’m the first to say that education isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – a “business”, it’s also not venture capital situation where you hand over a hundred grand in tax dollars to someone who doesn’t have to pay it back if they end up not using it for its intended purpose. That situation hands all the risk to the taxpayers and most, if not ALL, of the benefit to the “entrepreneur”.

At the very least, Ms. Baker should give us all an explanation as to what happened to all that money, why she never paid it back, and if she plans to reimburse us for it.