- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan’s school superintendent has terminated the contract giving a fledgling authority that runs 15 low-performing schools in Detroit exclusive functions of a turnaround district that could take over more failing public schools across the state.

Mike Flanagan, in a letter dated Tuesday and released Wednesday, notified the Education Achievement Authority that a 2011 deal ends a year from now instead of in 2016. He’d hoped to nix the arrangement immediately but said the school system didn’t agree.

“Even with the severing of the existing agreement, the EAA would be included among the options considered in which to place the state’s lowest-achieving schools in the future,” the superintendent wrote to EAA Chancellor John Covington.

Flanagan’s move came as Gov. Rick Snyder continues to have trouble winning approval of a bill to codify or expand the authority mainly because of resistance to putting non-Detroit schools under its control.

Michigan law allows the lowest-achieving 5 percent of public schools - 137 at last check - to be placed into the state’s reform district if their “redesign” plan isn’t achieving satisfactory results.

In 2011, the state transferred responsibilities of the turnaround district to the EAA, a new school authority backed by Snyder and formed through an agreement between Detroit schools’ state-appointed emergency manager and Eastern Michigan University. The 15 EAA schools opened last academic year with longer days, 500 more hours of class annually than usual, no grade levels and instruction tailored to individual students.

The authority has come under criticism from Democrats, some Republicans, K-12 superintendents and schools boards that contend the model is unproven, losing enrollment and lacks transparency. On the other side are those, including foundations that contributed money to get the EAA off the ground, who support doing something innovative for students trapped in failing schools.

“Perhaps the superintendent is starting to come to the conclusion that a lot of the parents in the EAA have had and it’s time to leave,” said Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids. “This is not the best option for kids in struggling schools.”

Flanagan has threatened to move more schools into the turnaround district on his own but prefers that legislation be passed. The stalled bill is partly an attempt to better define and clarify the state’s role when a low-achieving school is converted to a new operating entity outside a financial emergency situation like in Detroit.

Snyder told reporters Wednesday he respects Flanagan’s decision.

“What the superintendent has said and what we agree with is there may be better options for particular buildings,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said. “This is not in any way, shape or form criticism from him of the EAA. What he’s looking for is flexibility and we agree with that.”

Flanagan spokesman Martin Ackley said Michigan’s school redesign office will have to develop agreements with local school districts, intermediate school districts and “other educational entities” to operate schools in the turnaround district.

The legislation would allow no more than 50 schools in the district at any time, prioritize intervening in K-8 schools and prohibit schools from being added until the 2015-16 academic year. Schools in the bottom 5 percent can be found in Grand Rapids, Lansing and elsewhere.

Opponents, including some members of the state school board, say the bill contains no “exit strategy” for schools to return to their original districts.

EAA spokesman Terry Abbott said the authority supports additional flexibility for the state superintendent and defended its performance, saying nearly six in 10 students achieved 1 ½ years of growth in math and reading in year one. Critics have disputed the numbers.

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