Education
5:28 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Activists don't want another private charter school company running Muskegon Heights

If you've got a charter school management company and you'd like to run the chaotic, broke school district of Muskegon Heights, today is your last day to submit a bid.  

Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

That's because the school system's emergency manager recently announced a mutual split with their previous contractor, a company called Mosaica Education.

Mosaica was losing money.

And it was getting a lot of flack for hiring teachers without proper certification (which earned the district state fines) and not delivering all the required special education services. 

Ok, it's a mess, but how did we get here? 

Basically, the same way lots of other poor, urban Michigan school districts did.

Muskegon Heights was deeply in debt. And it had been losing students.

So  in 2012, the public school board threw in the towel.

It asked the state to take over, so an emergency manager came in and handed the district over to Mosaica, making Muskegon Heights the state's first fully charter school district. 

Things did not go smoothly. 

That summer, hundreds more kids left the district.

Numerous teachers quit within the first few months of the school year. 

Administrators asked for patience, saying they were "building this airplane while we fly it." 

Now the search for a new charter company, despite activists' protests

After the break-up with Mosaica, the emergency manager announced he was opening up a "request for proposals" from other interested charter companies.

The deadline for applications is today, though the district says it may consider applications that come in later. 

We called and left messages with both the EM's office and the district's attorney to see how many charter companies, if any, have applied so far.

We haven't gotten an answer.

But activists like Mary Valentine, a former state representative, are hoping the district doesn't wind up in the hands of any for-profit company, period.

"When you have for-profit operators coming and going, we're concerned that students may not be able to have that kind of stability that they need," she says. 

"What the state came in and did, did not help. So maybe the people need to run it. Maybe somebody needs to listen to what the people want."

She and other citizen activists today released what they're calling a "Citizens Request for Proposals" today in a press release. 

Citizens’ Request for Proposal

Muskegon Heights Public Schools

May 23, 2014

Those students who still remain in the Muskegon Heights Public School district did not cause the financial problems facing the district. They deserve an education commensurate with the students in surrounding districts. These are the students who don’t have a choice to leave, and we have a responsibility to them and this community to provide them with a good education.

We, the undersigned citizens are requesting the following:

1. The Muskegon Heights School District can no longer allow students to be used by for-profit companies to bolster their bottom line and cannot be allowed to enter the controversial and unproven Education Achievement Authority School District

2. Students must have a stable and nurturing learning environment. We cannot allow the high rates of teacher turnover in charter schools to continue to negatively affect the learning environment

3. A democratically elected school board must be given decision-making powers within this district to ensure proper use of taxpayer dollars

4. Adequate class sizes with research-proven student-to-teacher ratios

5. Access to professional, age appropriate libraries for all of our students

6. Fair and consistent discipline for all students

7. Appropriate special education services for all the students who qualify

8. Strong programs for music, art, drama, physical education and sports, commensurate with surrounding school districts

9. Counselors, social workers, psychologists and a school nurse available to all students

We cannot allow the students of our community to continue to be test subjects for experimental education models. We need a properly-funded school district with qualified teachers and adequate class sizes. Our community deserves to have control over its neighborhood schools and the ability to hold our school officials accountable.