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Snyder Signs Order Shifting School Reform To DTMB

March 16, 2015

Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday afternoon signed an executive order moving the state’s school reform functions to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) from the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).

The new approach is being framed by the Governor as a way to improve the state’s struggling schools, but also comes as the independently elected State Board of Education (SBE) is in the midst of picking a successor to retiring state Superintendent Mike Flanagan.

“Improving our schools is a Michigan priority, whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural community,” Snyder said. “A good education is the bedrock of success and kids in chronically failing schools are at significant risk for lifelong struggles. We must ensure all schools are meeting high standards so that all kids can learn and be put on the right path for success and quality of life.”

The School Reform Office was created in 2010 to create policies to turn around struggling schools. The current School Reform Officer is listed as deputy state superintendent Natasha Baker. The position is moving to DTMB with the department’s director in charge of filling that post.

Schools identified as being in the bottom 5 percent in achievement are put under the supervision of the state’s School Reform/Redesign Office. If the School Reform Officer doesn’t approve a school’s redesign plan or it’s not going well, the officer can put the school into the School Reform/Redesign District, which would impose a school intervention model on the school. So far, but no schools have been put into the district.

Some SBE members were quick to criticize the decision Thursday. SBE President and Democrat John Austin re-issued a statement he sent preemptively Wednesday, saying he “strongly discouraged the Governor” from taking the action and called it “unfortunate” and “counterproductive.”

“Moving the authority to a state agency with no educational abilities nor mandate will make it harder, not easier to improve educational outcomes for children in chronically failing schools, and undermines our ability to work together — Governor, State Board and our new Superintendent to improve education in Michigan,” he said in the statement.

SBE Vice President and Democrat Casandra Ulbrich wrote on her Twitter account that “This move is short-sighted and illogical.”

SBE members were already rattled Wednesday when MIRS reported the Governor’s office was looking at making this move in the midst of the board’s hiring process.

While Snyder spokesperson Sara Wurfel said the executive order had nothing to do with the selection process or any doubts Snyder may have that the eight-member body would pick someone who could work with the Governor’s office, the SBE couldn’t help but see it that way.

Near the end of executive order, it states, “Nothing in this order should be construed to diminish the role of the State Board of Education.”

The Governor said DTMB has proven itself with its work in housing CEPI (Center for Educational Performance and Information). Moving the School Reform Office to DTMB complements that work and will ensure the office has the latest data at the ready.

In 2011, 15 of the lowest-performing DPS schools were put under the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) using a separate mechanism. These schools will remain there, as this executive order does not change the EAA’s current structure or operations, the Governor’s office said. The executive order is slated to take effect 60 days from Thursday.

Progress Michigan and American Federation of Teachers of Michigan panned the move, but the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) praised it in a statement.

“We applaud Gov. Snyder for recognizing that this is an important tool that can be used to help students in poor-performing schools succeed,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of MAPSA, in a statement. “It’s important that we establish policies and take action to hold all schools accountable for their performance, and the governor’s decision is a step in that direction . . . Michigan already has the tools in its toolbox to help students in low-performing schools. We need to start using those tools, and we hope the governor’s action will help make that happen.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said he believes the Governor “may be onto something” with this idea.

“What we’re doing isn’t working,” he said regarding turning failing school districts around. “So we’re going to find something else. This may be it. I don’t know. We’ll have to see.

“I’m not here” to evaluate the expertise argument, but he added, “We can do better.”

At least one Democratic senator has a “very serious problem” with the Governor shifting around failing school responsibilities.

Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) said, “What this does is bury that school oversight office under layers of bureaucratic red tape . . . I think there’s absolutely no education expertise” in DTMB.

Knezek would not call this a potential power grab by the administration, preferring to suggest that the Governor is frustrated.

“His intentions, perhaps, may be good, but it’s still short-sighted . . . At the end of the day that’s where the expertise is,” he said, referring to the education department.

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids), the former K-12 budget vice chair, said the executive order was based on politics, not policy.

“Why don’t we transfer all the accounting and real estate functions to the Department of Education?” Dillon asked. “It makes about as much sense.”

More upbeat about the shift was Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair).

“Kids are trapped in our failing schools and aren’t getting what they deserve,” he said. “Parents demand more.”

On Knezek’s point about the expertise in the DTMB, Pavlov said, “It’s the decision making process” that is important and he has confidence in the Governor’s leadership skills to make this work. 

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