Detroit, Education — November 12, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Taint of corruption still defines Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority


Some terrific reporting by John Wisely and Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press shows that Gov. Snyder’s failed experiment on Detroit school children, the Education Achievement Authority, is still a place where corruption is still a big problem.

After former EAA Chancellor John Covington left under a cloud of scandal and corruption, Veronica Conforme was brought in to set things right. Hailing from the New York City school system, she had been doing consulting for the EAA for some time under Covington prior to ascension as his replacement.

One of Conforme’s first actions was to engage in a deceptive program to poach students from other schools. Her administration sent out recruitment letters to parents (and some non-parents) in nearby school districts. Here’s how I described it at the time:

This past week, parents of students outside of the EAA have been receiving letters from the EAA. The letters are recruitment letters, trying to bring in more students, but masquerade as official letters informing the parents that their students have been formally assigned to the EAA.

The title of the letter is “Confirmation of 2014-2015 School Assignment”, which any parent would be forgiven for believing is a formal reassignment of their child to the EAA’s school. However, if you read the body of the letter, you see that it’s actually just an invitation and that their children have been “selected to enroll”. In other words, it’s an incredibly deceptive and unethical way to bring in new students from other school districts. The letters shown here, in fact, were sent to a parent in Ferndale, a suburb 12 miles north of downtown Detroit. This parent happens to be Karen Twomey, the secretary of the Ferndale Schools Board of Education and a teacher in Bloomfield Hills. As an informed educator, Twomey was able to spot the deception immediately. Not all parents would have that ability to see these letters for the deception that they are.

Parents with children in Detroit Public Schools have received these letters, as well, a direct violation of the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the EAA and DPS not to poach students from each others districts.

You can see the letters by clicking HERE.

Conforme was later required to apologize for the letters.

More recently it was revealed that the EAA under Conforme’s “leadership” has been cheating teachers out of incentive pay, a program for which they received millions of dollars in federal funding.

Zaniewski and Wisely have uncovered information that shows the EAA sent out bids for a new teacher training program and used a scoring system to rate the bids. However, instead of awarding the contract to the highest scoring vendor, they went with the one that scored the 8th highest out of 10. The company has no website, no other customers, and was incorporated shortly before they sent in their bid. To make matters worse, their initial bid was over twice the cost as the top-scoring company:

The district running Michigan’s lowest-performing schools awarded a $1.7-million training contract to a company that scored 8th out of 10 companies seeking the work, according to documents reviewed by the Free Press.

The School Empowerment Network, or SEN, has no office, no listed phone number, an unfinished website and a seven-member staff. Its initial bid of $2.3 million was more than twice the $1-million bid submitted by the highest-scoring firm, Boston-based Public Consulting Group, which has 60 offices in the U.S., Canada and Europe. […]

The contract was awarded as the EAA is under siege because of poor academic performance, declining enrollment and an FBI investigation into kickback schemes involving vendors. […]

At a meeting in August, the EAA board heard a short presentation about the contract, asked no questions and approved it, all in less than 90 seconds.

And here’s the kicker: SEN is run by some of Conforme’s former colleagues when she was in New York.

Conforme created the scoring process but told the Detroit Free Press that “it’s only part of the process.” Based on the results, it appears that it was actually not part of the process at all, given the fact the SEN came in nearly last.

However, her former colleagues scored what turned out to be a $1.7 million contract with what will be their only customer.

These school reformer types like to stick together and help each other out, it appears.

Even when it’s on the taxpayers’ dime.