---- — LANSING (AP) — A key state senator is skeptical of House legislation that would give the state control over more of Michigan’s worst schools, questioning a last-minute provision he said could delay help for students in failing schools.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov, R- St. Clair, said he has concerns with a proposal to allow intermediate school districts to step in to run schools instead of a state authority. ISDs are service agencies that help regular districts with special education and career and technical education programs. They also help districts to cut costs through shared functions, and assist with enrollment audits, teacher training and student assessment tests.
“I’ve never seen ISDs associated with running schools. This is a new concept,” Pavlov told The Associated Press in a phone interview this week. “It isn’t part of an ISD’s mission.”
A measure that won narrow approval in the GOP-led House two weeks ago and is pending in the Senate would let the school board for a low-performing school at risk of being taken over by the state’s Education Achievement Authority ask the local intermediate school district to step in instead.
The ISD, governed by a board chosen by local school boards, would have 30 days to decide if it will intervene. Doing so would allow the ISD to cancel labor contracts with teachers, call for 210 school days a year instead of 180 days like in other Michigan schools and enforce longer school days — the same powers granted in the case of state intervention.
Pavlov said including county-level districts in the turnaround of bad schools could be “potentially viewed as a delay.”
“Adding another level of bureaucracy to something that stops the real repair from taking place, I need to be more informed on how that is going to be helpful,” he said.
The intermediate school district provision and another that gradually grants the state control of up to 50 schools were crucial to getting the legislation passed 57-53 in the House — with some support coming from suburban Detroit Republicans who had concerns with earlier versions of the bill.
If Senate Republicans resist the provisions, it could mean trouble for the bill, though Pavlov said he does not want to see it derailed.
Supporters say not every intermediate district could or would want to handle the daunting task of running a local school, but some are interested.
Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, said the Macomb ISD has helped some low-performing districts.
“If we’re going to have so many schools in turnaround, the state can’t do it all. It’s about local control,” Farrington said. “It’s about communities paying taxes to support their local schools and intermediate school districts — giving them the first crack.”
Messages seeking comment were left for officials with the Macomb and Oakland intermediate schools districts.
Conservative groups previously have criticized ISDs as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, and some districts have been hurt by allegations of financial abuse. Some Senate Republicans could delve deeper into the districts’ overall purpose in conjunction with the school turnaround legislation.
Defenders say intermediate districts are invaluable in a changing education landscape in which federal and state governments exert more influence over local policy decisions. Fifty-seven ISDs serve as a bridge to 550 or so local districts.
The legislation in question would codify the Education Achievement Authority into law. It would allow the state-run district, which already is in place in 15 Detroit schools, to take the reins at more schools in the bottom 5 percent of student test scores for three straight years.
Schools would be phased in to the program 12 at a time starting in the 2014 academic year, with the number of schools capped at 50.
The bill is a top legislative priority for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. The GOP says it is needed so lawmakers have more oversight under a law signed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm — designed to win federal Race to the Top grants — that created a school reform office to supervise the lowest performing 5 percent of schools.
Democrats have argued legislation would dismantle the public school system by usurping local control and implementing an experimental and unproven educational model that has been in place for less than a year.
House Bill 4369: http://1.usa.gov/16C5Ny3
Schools in bottom 5 percent: http://1.usa.gov/10km9c2
Email David Eggert at deggert(at)ap.org and follow him at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00