DPS schools get new life as char­ters

But crit­ics say their lure costs district money

The Detroit News - - Today’s Focus - BY MARISA SCHULTZ

Detroit — Atkin­son Ele­men­tary School was just around the corner from Bar­bara Mont­gomery’s home, al­low­ing for a quick daily walk to drop her son off at kinder­garten and mak­ing it easy for her to vol­un­teer in the class­room and cafe­te­ria.

So when Detroit Pub­lic Schools closed the build­ing in 2007 along with 32 oth­ers in the wake of de­clin­ing en­roll­ment and deficit trou­bles, Mont­gomery and her son were up­set. The clo­sure meant walk­ing a mile to Van Zile Ele­men­tary on Outer Drive.

But this year, Mont­gomery’s son, Ernest Roberts, is in fourth grade and back at the neigh­bor­hood school. It’s been ren­o­vated for $6 mil­lion and re­opened as Legacy Char­ter Academy.

DPS sold Atkin­son to the char­ter op­er­a­tor this year for $600,000, mark­ing what ob­servers call a sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy change un­der Emer­gency Fi­nan­cial Man­ager Robert Bobb: sell­ing shut­tered schools to groups that will com­pete for stu­dents.

“We are all glad,” Mont­gomery said. “Ev­ery­body is just happy.”

The 79 char­ter schools in the city have drained the pub­lic school sys­tem of stu­dents since Michi­gan al­lowed the cre­ation of char­ters in 1994. Last year, 44,375 Detroit stu­dents en­rolled in char­ter schools net­ting about $336 mil­lion in state money. Char­ter and pub­lic schools re­ceive fund­ing based on en­roll­ment.

DPS has lost roughly half its en­roll­ment in the past decade, down to about 85,000 stu­dents in 2009 — a rate of de­cline ex­ceed­ing the drop in the city’s pop­u­la­tion.

Fac­ing a $363 mil­lion deficit this year and a sur­plus of real es­tate af­ter clos­ing more than 150 schools in the past decade, Bobb tossed out a pol­icy of not sell­ing build­ings to char­ter op­er­a­tors and re­cently sold them three for­mer schools .

In ad­di­tion to Atkin­son, the for­mer Win­ship school, 14669 Cur­tis St., was sold to Uni­ver­sity Yes Academy for $440,000 and the for­mer Vin­cent Academy, 7600 Goethe St, went to Covenant House Academy East cam­pus for $230,000, ac­cord­ing to the char­ter op­er­a­tors. Covenant, a DPS-char­tered school, had been leas­ing the build­ing from the district.

The school district also leased a newly closed school, Bunche, to Ross-Hill Academy, an­other DPSchar­tered school.

DPS has been sell­ing fa­cil­i­ties to char­ter op­er­a­tors as well as oth­ers. In the first year of Bobb’s term — from March 2009 to March 2010 — the district sold 11 va­cant school prop­er­ties for more than $4 mil­lion. In the year prior, no district prop­erty had been sold or leased, ac­cord­ing to DPS.

‘A new day’

“It re­ally is a new day (for the district),” said Joel Landy, a Detroit real es­tate de­vel­oper who owns three for­mer district schools. “They are for the first time sell­ing them to char­ter schools be­cause there’s no other agenda other than ed­u­cat­ing kids and that’s an amaz­ing thing.”

One of Landy’s build­ings, the for­mer Jef­fer­son Mid­dle School on Selden, has be­come a char­ter — the Detroit Mid­town Academy — be­cause he bought the school in 1991, be­fore the pub­lic school district was threat­ened by the char­ter move­ment.

Bobb has said he wel­comes the com­pe­ti­tion from char­ter schools, be­liev­ing changes at DPS, such as new aca­demic pro­grams, can lure stu­dents back to the pub­lic schools.

“The se­ri­ously flawed no­tion that re­fus­ing to sell to char­ters over many years some­how slowed down the com­pe­ti­tion is sim­ply that, flawed, and did noth­ing what­so­ever to cur­tail what was ar­guably the largest char­ter ex­pan­sion in his­tory oc­cur­ring right here within the city lim­its,” district spokesman Steven Wasko said. “Now DPS can re­ceive much needed rev­enue from build­ing sales at the same time that it can re­duce its large in­ven­tory of real es­tate and the as­so­ci­ated costs of at­tempt­ing to main­tain prop­er­ties.”

But oth­ers dis­agree about the sales to non-DPS char­ters.

“It’s a bad busi­ness de­ci­sion on the part of the emer­gency fi­nan­cial man­ager,” said An­thony Adams, pres­i­dent of the Detroit Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. “It makes no sense for us to sell build­ings to schools that are tak­ing stu­dents out of our pop­u­la­tion. We need to be at­tract­ing stu­dents back to the district.”

New char­ter schools weaken the nearby pub­lic schools and con­trib­ute to the loss of en­roll­ment rev­enue, said Russ Bel­lant, co-chair­man of the board’s fa­cil­i­ties tran­si­tion com­mit­tee.

“It’s a bad pol­icy change,” said Bel­lant, par­ent of a 2009 DPS grad­u­ate. “I think the orig­i­nal pol­icy was the cor­rect one.”

Cel­e­brat­ing the com­mu­nity

Legacy Char­ter Academy opened Sept. 7 as a kinder­garten to fifth-grade school with nearly 400 stu­dents. It will add a grade each year un­til it of­fers kinder- garten through eighth grade.

The in­te­rior of the school was gut­ted. A wing was added. Lead and as­bestos were abated. New plumb­ing, elec­tri­cal, heat­ing and cool­ing and technology were in­stalled. The crushed mar­ble ter­razzo floor­ing was pol­ished.

Lead­ers at Legacy were care­ful to honor the his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture of the build­ing, which was built in 1927 and is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for list­ing on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places.

The orig­i­nal “Ed­mund Atkin­son School” stone en­grav­ing on the ex­te­rior of the castle­like build­ing was pre­served. Legacy lead­ers opted to put their sign on the side in­stead.

“We are in­vest­ing in the com­mu­nity. We want to be­come part of the com­mu­nity and Atkin­son is part of the her­itage and his­tory of the com­mu­nity,” said Legacy prin­ci­pal John Cog­ley. “We are very proud of that. We wanted to cel­e­brate that.”

Robert L. Calvin, 70, has lived across the street from Atkin­son for 30 years and is pleased to see the va­cant school re­vived.

“I think it’s good for the neigh­bor­hood, it will be good for the com­mu­nity,” Calvin said.

Catholic schools con­verted

Un­til now, char­ter school op­er­a­tors of­ten turned to for­mer Catholic schools in the city for a site. Legacy is op­er­ated by Na­tional Her­itage Acad­e­mies and it’s the first in a DPS build­ing. Na­tional Her­itage’s six other schools in the city are in for­mer Catholic schools.

Since 2001, 30 Catholic schools have closed in the city, ac­cord­ing to the Arch­dio­cese of Detroit. Nearly 70 per­cent were sold or leased to char­ter schools, spokesman Joe Kohn said. A Catholic ed­u­ca­tion is dis­tinct from a pub­lic char­ter school ed­u­ca­tion, Kohn said, so the arch­dio­cese doesn’t view char­ters as di­rect com­pe­ti­tion.

One of the four new char­ter build­ings this year, YMCA Detroit Lead­er­ship Academy, 13550 Vir­gil, was once St. Cather­ine of Siena Catholic School. YMCA and its donors spent about $1 mil­lion to buy and ren­o­vate the school. It plans to open as many as five more kinder­garten through eighth grade schools in Detroit that will feed into one high school, said Daniel Maier, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of YMCA Detroit.

The district’s for­mer Win­ship school re­ceived a $5.5 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion and opened in the fall as the Uni­ver­sity Yes Academy with a sixth-grade class of 100 stu­dents.

The char­ter will add a grade ev­ery year un­til it reaches the 12 th grade. Its open­ing is part of a grow­ing move­ment in the city — funded by foun­da­tions and sup­ported by Bobb and Mayor Dave Bing — to bring 70 schools to the city by 2020.

“Robert Bobb is not afraid of the com­pe­ti­tion,” said Doug Ross, CEO of New Ur­ban Learn­ing, which helped launch the char­ter school. “The district is in des­per­ate need of money. In­stead of let­ting these schools rot, Bobb had the courage to do what was best for kids.”

Pho­tos by Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News

Bar­bara Mont­gomery, 38, and son Ernest Roberts, 9, a fourth-grader, walk home from Legacy Char­ter Academy, which has nearly 400 stu­dents.

John Cog­ley, 31, is prin­ci­pal of Legacy, for­merly Atkin­son Ele­men­tary, which was ren­o­vated for $6 mil­lion.

Adrian Straub, 27, is a sec­ond-grade teacher at the new Legacy school, which opened Sept. 7.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.