The New Emergency Manager: Woman who got over $100K for school she never opened now imposing CEOs on struggling schools


I’ve been writing lately about the attempt by the Snyder administration to continue the undemocratic takeover of local schools facing financial difficulties without having to use an Emergency Manager. Thanks to the Flint water catastrophe where the residents’ drinking water was contaminated with lead thanks to decisions made by Emergency Managers, that phrase has become (pardon the pun) toxic. As I have written (HERE and HERE), the individual put in charge of taking over the school districts is now called a “CEO”. And the CEO has all sorts of power:

  • Assume the financial and academic authority over multiple schools;
  • Assume the role of the locally elected school board for those schools they have been assigned;
  • Control all funds attributable to pupils at the school without the consent of the locally elected board;
  • Permanently close a school without the consent of the locally elected board;
  • Sell closed school buildings without the consent of the locally elected board; and
  • Convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board.

If that sounds pretty much exactly like an Emergency Manager to you, you’re absolutely right.

The Detroit Free Press recently published a piece that goes more in depth:

More chronically failing Michigan schools are likely to come under the control of a CEO whose mission would be to turn around those schools — an approach that is being met with resistance among educators who say it puts too much power in the hands of one person.

The state school-reform office already is moving ahead with plans to hire a CEO to take over four elementary schools in East Detroit Public Schools, a Macomb County school district in Eastpointe that serves part of that city and part of Warren. The move was announced earlier this year.

The office is banking on the Legislature to help fund an expansion of that effort. The office has asked for $1 million to fund the district’s CEO and three other similar positions. The money would pay for salaries, benefits and work-related expenses; $5 million more is being requested for schools with CEOs to pay for academic support, technology upgrades and professional development. […]

The CEO would control how the school’s funding is spent, could terminate any contract or portion of a contract and impose a plan for changes on the school, among other things.

“To us, this isn’t any different than an emergency manager,” [chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District Judy] Pritchett said. “And we know that the emergency manager model has not been successful.”

It’s not entirely surprising that the rebranding from Emergency Manager to CEO is taking place now. Recall that last year Gov. Snyder took the State School Reform/Redesign Office (SSRRO) away from the Department of Education and put it under the control of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

The person in charge of this process is Natasha Baker. She’s an interesting choice given her history. As I wrote about last fall, Baker is a big proponent of charter schools. In fact, in an effort to start one of her own – she called it a “public boarding school” – she was the recipient of over $100,000 in tax dollars.

The school never opened.

The school was what the Center for Media and Democracy calls a “ghost school” and was one of several in Michigan that received millions of tax dollars without ever opening.

So, we have a rebranding of Emergency Managers into “CEOs” with the power to “convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board” and headed up by a charter school booster who took a huge amount of our tax dollars to open her own charter school and never had anything to show for it.

And that’s how things work in Michigan when it comes to education.

It’s a shame that, rather than moving the deck chairs around on a sinking ship, our Republican legislators can’t seem to realize that reinvesting in education is what is really needed to help these financially-strapped school districts. But, when you have to pay for over a billion dollars in new corporate tax breaks each year, the money has to come from somewhere and kids in struggling school districts are an easy target because they have very little political clout and an almost silent voice when policy and laws are being made.