Private managers take over Michigan schools

Two high-spending, low-performing Michigan school districts are now under for-profit management, reports Ed Week. Emergency managers hired Mosaica Education to run Muskegon Heights schools and the Leona Group to take over Highland Park, which borders Detroit. Can charter managers turn around failing school districts?

Both districts primarily enroll low-income black students. Both ran up huge budget deficits, while test scores remained very low. In both, schools have been plagued by violence.

In the middle of the first year, attendance was up and fighting was down, Mosaica’s Alena Zachery-Ross told Muskegon Heights parents.

Reading and math scores were up since the fall for 2nd to 7th graders, although many students continued to lag behind where they should be, she said, and many 8th to 12th graders remained far behind where they should be to graduate on time.

. . . According to tests administered at the beginning of the school year, 92 percent of 9th graders scored at least three grade levels below where they should have been in reading, and 82 percent were at least three grade levels below in math.

Teacher turnover has been high. Mosaica uses a structured, prescriptive curriculum and stresses “bell-to-bell instruction.” Some teachers quit as a result. In addition, Mosaica’s base teacher salary in Muskegon Heights is $35,000, with no retirement plan, compared with the former district’s $49,132. The company also cut  administrative positions to save money.

In Highland Park, Leona also pays lower salaries – an average of $39,400 compared with the $54,700 before — and spends less on administrators.

Cutting costs is essential.

The now defunct (Highland Park) school district operated under a $20 million budget in 2011-12. The new charter district is currently operating with a $14.6 million budget.

. . . (In Muskegon Heights) the charter district is operating on a budget of $8.9 million compared with the previous year, when the budget totaled $15.9 million, which does not include debt service.

Can Mosaica and Leona produce significantly better outcomes with significantly less funding? In both districts, the schools are safer. But that’s just the first step.

Michigan city outsources all its schools

One of Michigan’s lowest performing — and highest spending — school districting is turning over its three schools with nearly 1,000 students to a for-profit charter company, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In Highland Park School District, adjacent to Detroit, “only 22 percent of third graders passed state reading exams last school year and just 10 percent passed math,”  reports the Journal. Only 10 percent of high school students were proficient in reading and none in math. Phoenix-based Leona Group will run all three schools.

Highland Park decided to privatize its schools after years of enrollment decline, poor fiscal stewardship and allegations that a board member stole more than $125,000 by submitting false invoices; the charges against the member are pending.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the district spent $16,508 per student. By comparison, Michigan districts on average spent $9,202 per pupil that year. In the process, Highland Park ran up an $11.3 million deficit over its $18.9 million school budget.

Joyce Parker, appointed emergency district manager by Gov. Rick Snyder, ruled out merging Highland Park with a nearby district. “The financial problems were immense and we had to look at nontraditional ways to get the district back on track,” said Parker.

Under Leona’s management, the schools will receive $7,110 per pupil in state funding and an undetermined amount of federal funds for low-income and special education students.

Under the state emergency law, all the district’s professional staff has been laid off.  Teachers can apply for jobs with Leona, but the company “has budgeted about $36,000 a year for Highland Park teachers on average . . . compared with almost $65,000 a year the teachers received in the 2010-11 school year, reports the Journal.

So Leona will have much less money per student, inexperienced teachers and students who are way, way behind academically. It doesn’t look promising.