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Alan Petersime

Week in review: Can a district with half-empty schools keep them open?

Public school advocates in Detroit are breathing easier now that forced state school closings are off the table,. But school leaders still must address the fact that dozens of city schools are enrolling just a fraction of the students they were built to serve.

Our analysis of district data this week identified more than 40 schools that are more than half empty, some housing vacant classrooms, darkened hallways and entire wings that have been mothballed. The vacancies raise questions about how long the district can keep these buildings open but local leaders are hoping the problem can be addressed without the slash-and-burn school closings of the past.

I hope that the way any of these conversations proceed will be markedly different from the way things were done in the past … These conversations need to be around making sure that we provide the best possible opportunities for kids. — Alycia Meriweather, interim superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District

Read on for more on this story and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news. Also, our series on Detroiters telling their school stories this week features a mom who discovered that getting involved in her daughter’s school was the best way to ensure success. If you have a Detroit school story to share — or know someone who does — please let us know. Thanks!


In Detroit

Across the state

  • The Grosse Pointe school board voted unanimously to reject a plan that would have allowed admission for out-of-district students who paid $13,000 tuition a year. Charging tuition is legal, but it isn’t right, a Free Press columnist says. “It reinforces the arbitrary borders that separate cities and school districts, and the social divisions such partitions invite,” she wrote.
  • All nine districts that had schools on the state’s closure list have signed partnership agreements to keep their schools open. Of 38 schools that were targeted for closure in January, just one — a Detroit charter school — is still in danger of closing. The charter school could be closed by its authorizer.
  • Cyber and private schools were winners in the budget plan approved by state lawmakers this week. The plan, which includes a $100 per pupil increase, moved through both houses despite protests from Democrats.
  • In a lawsuit about the use of state dollars to fund private schools, the state argues that it shouldn’t be held to an “extremely literal interpretation” of the constitutional ban on public funding for private schools. A News columnist argued that those “stubborn” restrictions are one reason “students here continue to fall behind their peers in other states.”
  • GOP lawmakers are gearing up for another fight over teacher pensions.
  • The state’s top court ruled that private for-profit schools can qualify for some tax exemptions.
  • The question of when schools should be allowed to start classes in the fall has triggered a fierce political battle, pitting the tourism industry against schools.
  • Here’s how student enrollment has changed in the state’s 50 largest school districts over the last 25 years.
  • A U.S. State Department official paid a visit last week to a suburban charter school that in recent months has absorbed many refugee children from Iraq and Syria.
  • A state appeals court ruled that teachers and other school employees can quit their unions whenever they want, not just during the month of August.
  • Voters in some suburban districts this week approved tax hikes to fund new school buildings and renovations. Others voted no.
  • A News columnist argues that the U.S. News and World Report high school ranking, which put charters at the top of the list in Michigan, is an answer to critics of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who say Michigan charters aren’t delivering results.

In other news

  • A DTE Energy executive explains why the push to prepare kids for 21st century jobs needs to begin in preschool.
  • A Free Press cartoonist wonders what would happen if the U.S. Education Department gave Secretary Betsy DeVos a voucher to pay for her personal security expenses.
  • A suburban school has won a $20,000 “innovators challenge” award to connect students and community members with a nearby tech workshop.
  • A former Detroit school official who was convicted of stealing from the Chicago school district was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. The sentencing came after she received letters of support from Detroit officials including the former emergency manager who hired her to work in the Detroit district.
  • Michigan teams were victorious in an international robotics competition.
  • A Detroit Catholic school held a “signing day” event to celebrate seniors’ college choices. The school says all seniors or going on to college for the seventh year in a row.
  • Here’s how one Detroit private school celebrated May Day.