In recent weeks, we have discussed the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). I have said that I am not interested in scaring people, but I believe there are some scary components of this program to improve student success in schools that have been identified as failing. There have been some improvements in the legislation that was passed in the House, but there are still issues that I would like to see addressed.
First, and I quote from HB4389, “The Achievement Authority shall be governed by an Authority Board consisting of seven members as follows:
A. Five members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
B. One member appointed by the governor from among a list of three nominees submitted by the Senate Majority Leader.
C. One member appointed by the governor from a list of three nominees submitted by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
Please notice that none would be elected by the public although board meetings, which are held in Detroit, are open to the public. This does not necessarily mean they will be accountable to the public. This might not be a concern if this was not intended to be a permanent entity that plans to extend its program to include additional schools every year. Is the intent to control enough schools that locally elected boards can be eliminated? I believe we must be diligent in protecting against any action that takes away our rights as citizens to participate in governing ourselves. These rights have been secured for us over a period of more than 200 years. And the public schools belong to the public.
The next issue that must be studied is finance. The EAA is funded not only by per pupil state aid the same as other public schools but also by donations from investors who want the program to succeed. How long will they continue to donate? What do investors expect from their investment? Where does money come from if investors tire of supporting the program? Will they support schools that are taken over in the future? How much influence will investors buy? Again, we are talking about the public schools. I think we need to be very concerned about the intent of this Authority that the public has had very little opportunity to influence and about its impact on and the future of this valued institution.
Greenville Superintendent Peter Haines shares this information. “Recently, with the assistance of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a report (www.mackinac.org/depts/epi/salary.aspx) was widely published which included compensation for public school administrators in Michigan, which was often accompanied by editorial suggestions that such expenditures were excessive and inefficient uses of public dollars. For undisclosed reasons, comparable data from the existing Education Achievement Authority was excluded. That data demonstrates a total compensation of the current EAA’s top administrator at over $350,000 annually, which is well above even the highest paid in our area. In addition, there are layers of subordinate administrators who are also paid well above their traditional public school counterparts, if those layers even exist in our schools.”
I have to point out that all of this is for an entity that is truly an experiment with virtually no track record.
The legislation that is currently being considered has the potential — and indeed is intended to seriously change the way we educate the children of our state. It demands equally serious study by our legislators and adequate opportunity for input from taxpayers. I question whether it is needed. Let the experiment continue and evaluate it at a later date to determine if it has been successful and whether it is really the direction in which we choose to go.
Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.