Mosaica Education Inc

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Mosaica Education, the charter company running Muskegon Heights schools, only has a few days left in its contract. But the district still has lots to do to get everything in place for the fall.

Last night the district hired its superintendent at a special board meeting. But it still has to finalize agreements with a staffing agency to hire all of its teachers and few other vendors by Monday.

This summer it has to finish building repairs, and rearrange all the grade levels because an elementary school building will close.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Updated: Emergency manager says new arrangement will be more economical than charter school company

Muskegon Heights schools will not hire another for-profit charter company to run the district. Instead, the district plans to hire its own superintendent, a staffing company and the intermediate school district in Muskegon County to run schools for the next three years.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Updated 5:10 p.m.

Mosaica Education and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy have come to a mutual agreement to end their working relationship.

“This was a difficult decision for us and our board,” Mosaica Chief Executive Officer Michael Connelly said in a written statement.

“We are very proud of the academic turnaround we were able to achieve under the leadership of Alena Zachery-Ross, our regional vice president and the superintendent for the system,” he said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights' charter school board acknowledged at a meeting Monday night it doesn’t know how it’ll fund operations for the rest of this school year. But it is reassuring the community it’ll figure something out by next week at the latest.

“As soon as we have something I will share it with you. That’s a promise,” Muskegon Heights Academy’s school board president Arthur Scott said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Muskegon Heights charter school district owes the company that’s operating its schools a little more than $2 million. That’s according to Mosaica Education’s CEO. 

The new charter district was created in Muskegon Heights when severe cash problems prompted a state takeover of the traditional school district by an emergency manager in 2012. Now the charter district is having cash flow problems of its own.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System is asking the state to front $191,000 to cover paychecks that are set to go out this Tuesday.

It’s the second time this month the district has asked for an advance.

The advance would come out of the district’s state aid payment April 20. Earlier this month the state advanced $231,000.

State treasury officials say the district typically gets roughly $455,000 a month after debt obligations.

School board officials have previously declined requests for comment from Michigan Radio. Reports out today say board members also declined to comment to reporters at the special board meeting today, which lasted approximately five minutes.

Charter company Mosaica Education is running the district. The company’s CEO has not returned repeated requests for comment this week.

Mosaica’s Regional VP of Operations Alena Zachery-Ross says advancements for struggling school districts aren’t completely uncommon. She says the district is working on a plan to meet payroll for the rest of the year but couldn’t comment on the details of those negotiations.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

State officials and the Muskegon Heights School Board are trying to figure out how they’ll be able to pay staff for the rest of this school year, although the district’s emergency manager is “confident” they’ll work something out.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On average, students under the state’s first fully privatized public school district are learning at a faster rate than under the old system. That’s according to data released Monday night by the charter company running the Muskegon Heights district.

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager set up the charter system in the summer of 2012, when the existing district couldn’t afford to open. Highland Park Public Schools is under a similar arrangement.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public  Schools had nearly a $12 million deficit at the end of last school year. That's when the district’s newly appointed Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon said the district couldn't afford to open school in the fall. He laid off most all the staff and hired charter school company Mosaica Education to run the schools for five years.

The Muskegon Heights school system has been fined nearly $100,000 by the Michigan Department of Education. The department launched the investigation after Michigan Radio reported the new Muskegon Heights charter school district had about 10% of teachers working without a valid teaching certificate or permit. It’s against state law to do that.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

New reports show special education students in Muskegon Heights didn’t get all the services they should have this year. The company that runs the state’s first all-charter public school district is working to correct the problems.

Problems with charter company’s handling of special ed services

Federal law and state regulations outline the rules that are supposed to make sure kids with special needs still get a fair education.

Michigan’s Department of Education found more than a dozen ways the new Muskegon Heights charter district violated those rules, affecting a couple hundred special education students.

“In my opinion this was probably the worst delivery of special education services I’ve seen in my career,” said Norm Kittleson, a former special education teacher at Muskegon Heights. He’s been teaching for 15 years.

Kittleson started teaching a small class of students with learning disabilities and emotional issues at Muskegon Heights last October.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Teachers in the new charter school district in Muskegon Heights have now obtained certificates or permits that allow them to legally work in Michigan classrooms.

This week Michigan Radio reported the state's first all-charter public school district had at least eight teachers who worked, in some case for months, without a valid Michigan teaching certificate or permit. It’s against state law to do that.

Now, public records show those who were still teaching at Muskegon Heights without proper certificates managed to get them this week. Most obtained teacher certificates. Two others obtained substitute permits.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update: As of February 14th, these teachers have now obtained valid Michigan teaching certificates or permits.

Courtesy photo / Mosaica Education

The new Muskegon Heights charter school district is welcoming yet another principal at its high school. Carla Turner-Laws is the third principal so far this school year. Technically, her title is Interim Head of School/Instructional Specialist.

A couple dozen people sharing cookies and pink fruit punch welcomed Turner-Laws at a reception Wednesday night. Most were fellow co-workers, friends and family members.

The MHPS district’s state-appointed emergency manager turned the entire district over to a charter school company last June.

Grading Michigan's first fully privatized public school district

Jan 8, 2013
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Last summer, Muskegon Heights became the first school district in the state to completely privatize its public school system.

In December 2011, after running a budget deficit for six years in a row, the school board requested the appointment of an emergency manager under the now-defunct Public Act 4.

Soon after his appointment in April 2012, emergency manager Don Weatherspoon laid off all of the district’s employees, created a new charter district, and appointed a new school board to run it.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This story is the fourth in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

Students in Muskegon Heights are going through a lot of changes this year, because the entire school district was converted to a charter school system. After tackling some tough issues in the first half of the school year, the operators of the charter school system want the public to give them a full school year to put the changes in place.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This story is the third in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part one here, part two here and part four here.

The decision to convert the Muskegon Heights Public School district into a charter school district was a financial one. But the officials who run the new system hope to improve academics too.

From the outside, Edgewood Elementary School looks and sounds the same as any other year.

But this year, Mosaica Education, the charter company that’s running the school, hopes a new curriculum, longer school day and year round classes will improve student success.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This story is the second in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part one here, part three here, and part four here.

At least one in four teachers at the new Muskegon Heights school district have already quit the charter school this year. That’s after an emergency manager laid off all the former public school teachers in Muskegon Heights because he didn’t have enough money to open school in the fall. That means there have been a lot of new, adult faces in the district.

Students say the high teacher turnover has affected them and top school administrators say it has held back academic achievement this school year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights students are heading back to class today to begin the second half of what’s been a very turbulent school year.

This story is the first in a four-part series about how things are going so far in Michigan's first fully privatized public school district. Find part two here, part three here, and part four here.  

Old district “implodes” after years-long financial problems

The school board in Muskegon Heights battled a budget deficit for at least six years in a row. They gave up the fight a year ago and asked the state to just take over. 

“The system that was in place imploded,” said Don Weatherspoon, the guy the state eventually sent in late April to be the emergency manager.

"Enrollment went down, costs went up, they borrowed more than they could pay back; you’re on a collision course with disaster and that’s what happened," Weatherspoon explained. Student enrollment is a big factor in how much money a school district receives from the state.

“Everything that you can think of basically broke down. Discipline, learning, record-keeping, financial accounting, etc,” Weatherspoon said.

By May, Weatherspoon discovered the district is more than $16 million dollars in debt; so much debt it couldn’t afford to open school in the fall.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Over the summer Muskegon Heights schools’ then emergency manager laid off everybody who worked at the district and hired Mosaica Education to run operations for 5 years.

Muskegon Heights has some of the lowest performing schools in Michigan and is dealing with a multi-million dollar deficit. The state appointed manager says he had no other option but to privatize operations.

Three months in, one in four (20 of 80 total) of the newly hired teachers has quit.

“It’s confusing because I go from this learning process to this learning process to that learning process and it’s just ridiculous how some teachers leave and we have to start all over and learn something new,” Muskegon Heights High School senior Tony Harris said, “It’s just, it’s crazy.”

Mosaica was hired in July, 2012 to run the schools. (L toR) Mosaica Regional Vice President Alena Zachery Ross, Mosaica founder and President Gene Eidelman, and Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The first two weeks of class have presented some obstacles for Michigan’s first fully privatized public school district.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency financial manager hired Mosaica Education, a charter school company, in July to run the K-12 system while he focuses on paying off the district’s debt. Highland Park schools’ EFM took the same option later that month.

Alena Zachery-Ross is the top administrator at the new Muskegon Height Public School Academy System. She’s very positive, but admits the first two weeks didn’t go “as smoothly” as she expected.

“There are all these things that you don’t think of. There are small details that we want to ensure are taken care of immediately but they take time,” Zachery-Ross said. She says these 'day-to-day' details are important but she must stick to a priority list.

Mosaica was hired in July, 2012 to run the schools. (L toR) Mosaica Regional Vice President Alena Zachery Ross, Mosaica founder and President Gene Eidelman, and Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Parents in the Muskegon Heights Public School district are just starting to get an idea of what to expect for their children this fall.

The district is having major financial problems and is under the control of a state appointed emergency manager, Donald Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said turning over the entire district to a charter school operator was his only option to keep school open this year.

Last week, the three-member school board (appointed by the Weatherspoon) hired Mosaica Education Inc. to operate the schools in Muskegon Heights.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The school board for the new charter school system in Muskegon Heights will likely adopt a preliminary budget Monday.  

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager hired a for-profit charter school company to run the public school system for the next five years.

An attorney for the school board says Mosaica Education drafted the budget the school board will consider approving Monday. It's likely the budget will be amended throughout the school year if needed.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The leader of a small, urban school district in western Michigan is completely privatizing the public school system there. The case may become an example for other school districts facing major financial problems.

The problems are academic and financial

The situation at Muskegon Heights Public Schools was dire. It ran $18,000 in the red each day school was open last year.

The emergency manager of the Muskegon Heights Public School district has signed a contract with a private company to run the district next year.

Mosaica Education is a for-profit charter operator that already runs six other charter schools in Michigan.