Snyder: More time needed on school closures

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

LANSING — On Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder said more time and work are needed to determine the best course of action for the 38 schools on the state’s potential closure list.

State School Reform/Redesign officials released a list Jan. 20 of more than three dozen schools statewide that they want to close because they were in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s Top-to-Bottom list for three straight years.

The list includes three schools in Benton Harbor Area Schools – International Academy at Hull, STEAM Academy at MLK and Dream Academy. Besides in Benton Harbor, schools on the list that will possibly be closed are in Saginaw, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Pontiac.

“Any action we take will have long-lasting consequences, and we need to take the time to get this right,” Snyder said in a news release. “That’s why I want our SRO team to work closely with State Superintendent Brian Whiston and the Michigan Department of Education to reach out and coordinate all the latest information with local superintendents and districts.”

Snyder asked the SRO and the MDE to have all reviews and decisions ready by May, and that any decisions available before then should be announced as soon as they are ready.

Each year, schools in the bottom 5 percent of all public schools in Michigan are identified as “priority schools” and monitored for turnaround in subsequent years.

State law requires that schools identified in the bottom 5 percent of all schools write plans and receive support services. Schools are eligible to leave priority school status if they meet three exit criteria after four years of implementing redesign plans.

Earlier this year, 79 schools exited the priority list.

The state’s Revised School Code, which was amended in 2009 under then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm and in June under Snyder, requires the SRO to order districts to close those schools unless the closure would result in unreasonable hardship for the students.

“Our vision at the SRO is for every kid in Michigan to have access to a globally competitive education,” State School Reform Officer Natasha Baker said in the release. “All kids deserve access to a quality school that will prepare them for a good life after high school. That’s why our team remains dedicated to taking action when schools are not providing students with a quality education. In some instances, this has been the case for over a decade.”

Snyder said closure may not be the right option for serving students and their families due to the hardship it would create. But there still must be some action taken to fix a failing school.

That’s why he is having Baker’s and Whiston’s teams collaborate on possible solutions.

“I appreciate the good working relationship that has developed between the Michigan Department of Education and the School Reform Office, and now we can build upon that to help students in struggling schools,” Whiston said in an email. “Closing a school is a tough decision and sometimes there just are no other options that make sense, but we need to work closely with a local district and the community they serve to reach our conclusions together.”

Reforming the school closure process has been in discussion among lawmakers the last few months.

Two bills were recently introduced in the state Senate, which would repeal all or part of the state’s Revised School Code that deals with accountability and school accreditation. In his news release, Snyder addressed these efforts by state senators.

“We know that legislators want to review and possibly replace the law that the SRO is governed by, and I look forward to working on that with them,” he said. “We must ensure all students have a pathway to Michigan’s future success. That path starts at home and continues straight through the school doors.”

Several Benton Harbor church leaders arranged for buses to take residents to Lansing on Friday to tell state representatives to leave their schools alone.

The march is expected to start at Central United Methodist Church in Lansing and go to the state School Reform Office.

“I understand the anxiety that parents have when there is a discussion about a school being closed and that everyone wants answers right away. But if we are going to do this right, we are going to have to take the time to do the right thing,” Snyder said in the release. “We have heard from communities and their elected officials about the desire to have more input into this process and we will consider feedback from local communities as we move forward.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 24, 2017)

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