30 March 2015


Original Story: freep.com

ROSCOMMON – The largest single public land deal in Michigan history will be approved, state Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh said Thursday. A Tulsa renewable energy lawyer is following this story closely.

The state is selling 8,810 acres of surface land or underground mineral rights to Canadian company Graymont for it to create a vast, 13,000-acre limestone mining operation in the Upper Peninsula counties of Mackinac and Luce. The deal calls for Graymont to pay the state $4.53 million.

The divisive proposal has been a subject of debate for 18 months in a naturally beautiful, rural portion of the U.P. Creagh said the DNR faced a "very difficult balance" with its mandates to protect natural resources and allow their beneficial use — as well as balance the opposing viewpoints from area residents. An Austin mineral rights lawyer represents clients in all aspects of negotiations with land and mineral owners.

In addition to the $4.53 million, Michigan retains surface and public use rights on more than 7,000 acres of the sale property. The state additionally will receive a 30-cent royalty on each ton of limestone or dolomite mined by Graymont in the area. The state has also agreed to grant 830 acres of mineral rights to Graymont for the project in exchange for company-held mineral rights in other locations of the U.P.

Supporters of Graymont's Rexton limestone mining project cite the desperate need for jobs and economic activity in an area where young people often move away to find work after completing school. Others fear the mining and traffic will irreparably damage the bucolic setting that called them to live or retire there.

DNR department heads earlier this year sent a memo to Creagh recommending rejection of the Graymont proposal, citing numerous concerns. Company officials continued negotiations with the state and resolved areas of disagreement to the point that the department heads earlier this month reversed their stance and recommended approval. A Houston mineral rights lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Changes in the agreement included increasing the mineral royalty from 18.75 cents to 30 cents per ton, Graymont agreeing to a minimum annual royalty payment to the state beginning in 2020 and the company establishing a regional economic development fund of $100,000 per year for five years.

"The chiefs had identified what their concerns were, and the staff rolled up their sleeves and went to work," Creagh said.

P.J. Stoll, plant manager for Graymont's Gulliver facility, said the public process "very much improved the original proposal."

The divided local opinion was apparent from those speaking before the Natural Resources Commission in Roscommon on Thursday. Rexton-area resident Tonya Emerson's nearly 100-year-old family farm will have Graymont mining operations on three sides of the property. She cited concerns about a reduced water table and water contamination.

"Selling the state's greatest asset, allowing a foreign company to destroy our land — while making a huge profit doing so — would be a huge injustice to the residents of upper Michigan," she said.

Rexton resident Dorothy Mills was similarly opposed.

"We purchased our property, we built our houses, in an area that didn't have a limestone mine. So did many others," she said.

But several speakers who made the trip from the U.P. expressed support for the project, saying the economic benefit it will bring to a depressed area is much needed.

"The young people deserve it," area resident Jeff Dishaw said. "Myself, I have a job. But the young people in this community deserve the opportunity to stay and earn a middle-class living."

Hendricks Township Supervisor Russell Nelson told the Free Press before Thursday's commission meeting that it was time to move ahead with the project.

"This has pitted neighbor against neighbor," he said.

Graymont officials say the initial phase of their operation will create 50 mining and transportation-related jobs, along with 100 indirect jobs. The company, the second-largest supplier of lime and lime-based products in North America, also is considering building a $100-million limestone processing plant in Nelson's township years from now.

"We need the jobs," Nelson said. "Our township has about 160 residents over 80 square miles. We have one little convenience store and a couple of restaurants."

The revised deal still does not address Trout Lake Township resident Kathy English's concerns, she said.

"It doesn't change the noise, the traffic, the pollution, the potential impacts to the water table, the changes to our way of life," she said.

The Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club also opposed the land deal, saying the DNR is failing to follow state law in determining surplus state lands. The land deal involves 10 times more acreage than any previous sale, club officials said.

"As proposed, the Graymont sale would establish a dangerous precedent and undermine our longstanding Michigan tradition of ensuring publicly owned lands that we value today are also there for future generations of Michiganders," Sierra Club forest ecologist Marvin Roberson said.


Original Story: usatoday.com

DETROIT — Saying there is no room for double standards, an Oakland County judge sentenced a 30-year-old female teacher to spend the next six to 15 years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a student.

Kathryn Ronk, who taught Spanish at a Catholic high school, could have been sentenced to as little as a year in jail, but Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Nanci Grant opted for prison time Tuesday, noting the boy was 15 at the time. A Westchester County criminal defense lawyer is following this story closely.

Grant was dismayed by letters asking for leniency for Ronk, a former teacher at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, but making no mention of concern for the boy.

"You are dealing with children that are still developing emotionally," Grant said Wednesday. "To have this continuing double standard is unacceptable. The law does not recognize a double standard, the law is clearly on point in terms that these children are developing human beings. This was a person in position with power and influence over him."

Ronk was originally charged with five counts of criminal sexual conduct, including rape, but pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. A Memphis sexual harassment lawyer represents clients involved in sexual harassment claims.

Ronk also faces charges in Macomb County because some of the sexual contact took place in the boy's Macomb Township home and in a car in Sterling Heights. A trial date has been set for March 31, although there are ongoing discussions about a plea arrangement.

23 March 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Construction will begin this summer on a LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets.

Legoland Discovery Centers are unique indoor attractions based on the popular Lego brick. Catering to families with children aged 3 to 10, the Legoland center will offer interactive and educational experiences for kids.

The centers include a range of play areas including a LEGO ride, party rooms for birthdays and other celebrations, and a 4D cinema.

Operated by British-based leisure company Merlin Entertainments, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan will be Merlin's eighth Discovery Center to open in the U.S.

"The LEGOLAND Discovery Centers have been a huge success across the globe, particularly as an opportunity for adults and children to spend fun, quality time together," said Glenn Earlam, managing director, Merlin's Midway Attractions Operating Group. "Great Lakes Crossing Outlets is the ideal location for the attraction as the mall is already a favored destination for Michigan families and tourists from the region."

"We are excited to welcome the LEGOLAND Discovery Center to the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets family," said Steve Berlow, general manager of the center. "The enduring appeal of the LEGO brick combined with our already popular SEA LIFE aquarium ensures that our center will continue to be the premier destination for families who enjoy great shopping combined with high-quality entertainment and dining."

Once completed, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan will be located in District 6 which is adjacent to the Great Lakes Crossing Outlet food court.

20 March 2015


Original Story: freep.com

The University of Michigan's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity has been permanently disbanded by its parent organization for not only wrecking a northern Michigan resort but also for not stepping up and facing the music.

"It is regrettable that these vandals, as well as the officers of the chapter, decided that avoiding personal accountability and/or university sanctions took priority over the welfare of the entire chapter; their lack of cooperation led to the university's withdrawal of recognition of the entire chapter for a four-year period. Sigma Alpha Mu worked in cooperation with university officials and regretfully agreed with their request to close the chapter," executive director Leland Manders wrote in a statement. An Atlanta college discipline lawyer is following this story closely.

"The action was necessary as a result of: a) the lack of cooperation by those responsible for the damage in not coming forward, b) the chapter officers' refusal to identify the members who damaged the hotel property, c) the lack of action to stop the vandalism by bystanders.

"Sigma Alpha Mu's values and standards of conduct were violated by the actions of the those members whose behavior was abhorrent.

"When the incident first occurred, the fraternity's board took immediate and decisive action by suspending the chapter from all activities until a full investigation could be conducted. As a result of that process, a membership review was conducted and most of the senior members of the chapter refused to participate."

The statement says all members have been placed on alumni status and some face disciplinary action from "various authorities." An Atlanta university discipline lawyer represents students facing disciplinary action by their college or university.

The university itself was "pleased (the national organization) followed through with this action," U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Free Press, adding the actions taken by both the university and the national group prove they took the issue seriously.

U-M is still waiting for information from the police on individuals who might have been involved. No disciplinary proceedings have been started against any individuals, Fitzgerald said.

Those living in the house have until May 3 to move out. That's the official end of the school year at U-M.

This end was inevitable, said Alan Greenberg, a member of the alumni board that owns the house. The chapter leaders "chose to protect those who destroyed this chapter," he said.

Greenberg has been involved with the U-M chapter since 2004, when the house reopened after burning in 1999.

"We started with 10 kids and quickly grew," he said, noting that within a few years the U-M chapter was among the best SAM chapters in the nation.

"I'm clearly very disappointed in this," he said. "(The national organization) stated the reasons for this very clearly. It was almost a foregone conclusion this was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.

"I also fault the parents, because they didn't impose their will on the students to make them deal with this and they had chances to do so."

About 120 U-M students, members of Sigma Alpha Mu and women from its sister sorority, Sigma Delta Tau, had gathered at the ski resort in January. There was damage to 45 rooms, and students destroyed ceiling tiles and exit signs, broke furniture and doors and urinated on carpeting, pictures showed.

Damage estimates have climbed to over $400,000. State Police are investigating. No students have been charged. The prosecutor did not immediately return a request for an update.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel in late February barred Sigma Alpha Mu from campus life for at least four years, the most severe sanction that can be implemented against any campus student organization. He also asked the fraternity's national council to revoke its charter.

Schlissel's statement said sanctions against the fraternity include "paying full restitution to Treetops" and "participating in restorative measures in the Gaylord community."

Sorority Sigma Delta Tau was placed on a two-year disciplinary suspension because its members "stood by at Treetops Resort and allowed others to vandalize the facility," according to the U-M sanctions.

16 March 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Traffic court is going digital.

Ann Arbor-based start-up Court Innovations has developed a software solution that allows drivers to settle traffic violations by negotiating in a virtual environment instead of showing up to court to fight tickets. A Yorktown traffic ticket lawyer is following this story closely.

The model, which can also extend to other minor civil infractions, is appealing to courts because it reduces workload and increases fine collection rates. And it's appealing to offenders who don't have time to show up in court or simply can't afford to take off of work.

"It really does save the court a lot of time, and people feel their voice is heard by going this way," said MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations, the first spinoff from the University of Michigan Law School. A Fishkill speeding ticket lawyer provides extensive experience in traffic ticket cases.

After about a year of product development and testing, the company has secured three clients: Washtenaw County's 14A District Court, Bay County's 74th District Court and Wayne County's 30th District Court in Highland Park.

But the software service reflects the kind of sensible solution that can alleviate the overburdened judicial system throughout the U.S. In Detroit, for example, the 36th District Court's inefficient bureaucracy and abysmal fine collection system contributed to the city's collapse into bankruptcy.

With a system like Court Innovations, which was founded by U-M Law Professor J.J. Prescott and former law student Ben Gubernick, courts can refocus their efforts on critical cases instead of minor issues that bog down the docket. A Harrison speeding ticket lawyer represents clients facing traffic ticket charges.

Here's how it works:

1. You are assessed a ticket or a fine for a driving violation or other infraction.

2. If you're willing to admit guilt but would like to negotiate for a lesser charge, you compose an explanation of your circumstances -- perhaps even a justification of your actions -- and submit it through the court's website.

"They're pretty well-thought-out and non-confrontational, which is different than being in court," Cartwright said.

3. An adjudicator considers your case and decides whether to lower your charge. The offender is notified via email or text message.

4. You decide whether to accept the reduced penalty. If you accept, you pay your fine immediately online or set up a payment system. If you reject the deal, you still have the option to plead your case in open court.

The process can also be applied to offenders with minor outstanding warrants, such as a misdemeanor for driving without a license.

"You can't go in and negotiate a murder plea," Cartwright said.

The system needs to be customized for each individual court's website, but chief technical officer Saaed Fattahi is building digital infrastructure that can be tweaked and deployed quickly for new customers.

About 50% of the people who have used the system so far are accessing it from a mobile device.

"We want to go national," Fattahi said. "The core software is not rocket science. It's just building one platform that can handle all these different variations."

Court Innovations envisions reaping revenue from transaction fees, setup fees and a cut of paid fines. So far, the company has navigated its growth trajectory with funding from U-M's Third Century Initiative, which backs early-stage U-M ideas. But the firm is expected to hit the venture fundraising trail to accelerate its growth. A Greenburgh speeding ticket lawyer represents clients in traffic court discussions and plea bargains.

The firm has attracted a diverse leadership team with deep roots in Ann Arbor's entrepreneurial ecosystem. With about seven employees right now in an office on Ashley Street in downtown Detroit, Court Innovations expects to expand quickly as it secures more customers. Cartwright and product director Tracy Davis are former employees of HealthMedia, one of the Ann Arbor tech scene's startup successes, which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson several years ago.

Davis, a former newspaper reporter, said she's "learning to speak court and translating it into geek" to ensure the company is developing usable solutions for its customers.

"I think there's a huge potential for this because government is one of the last industries that hasn't modernized their IT. They're stuck in the past," said Andrew Iacco, a user experience software developer. "So the expectation on the court's side is very low. We come in with this solution – this is great."

13 March 2015


Original Story: macombdaily.com

The political leader of a rural St. Clair County community was arrested by Clay Township police for drunk driving Feb. 12

Supervisor Kelly Fiscelli, the top elected official in Cottrellville Township, located outside of Marine City, was taken into custody at about 12:40 a.m., several hours after a board meeting she chaired.

She was charged with operating with blood alcohol content of .17 or more, the so-called ‘super drunk’ law, a term applied to first-time offenders who register a PBT greater than .17. A Westchester County drunk driving lawyer represents clients charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Fiscelli was reportedly on her way home when a Clay Township police cruiser spotted her driving erratically.

Police received a call of an intoxicated woman who refused attempts by others to give her a ride home, according to a Clay Township police report. The caller let police know the vehicle she was driving was eastbound on M-29. Police caught up with the car at Palms Road as it was stopped under a traffic light. The police report states Fiscelli then turned down Palms and made a right on Shea Road, crossing the centerline as she did so. She then drove in the wrong lane for a time with the police car behind her. A New York DWI lawyer is following this story closely.

After a traffic stop the officer made contact with her. Fiscelli looked and acted like she was impaired, according to the police report. Her speech was slurred, she smelled of alcohol and seemed confused at times, the officer reported. When asked how much she drank, she said she had three beers. She then failed a field sobriety test and refused to attempt another.

The officer asked if she would submit to a Preliminary Breath Test and she agreed with a .23 percent result. The legal limit of intoxication is .08.

Fiscelli was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. At the police station, she told officers she “did not know what to do” and wanted to call Tim Donnellon, who is the St. Clair County Sheriff. After making a phone call she took another PBT with the result a .28 percent reading. She then refused a third breath test. While she was fingerprinted, she became uncooperative, making it impossible to be photographed.

She was then lodged at the St. Clair County Jail. The next morning, she was released on a personal bond with no monetary requirement, according to St. Clair County court records.

While en route to the jail, the report states she was verbally abusive to the officers. A New York drunk driving lawyer provides experienced representation to clients involved in DUI charges.

On Feb. 17, Fiscelli, in a prepared statement, acknowledged the arrest.

“I was arrested. It was my first offense. I made a mistake,” she said. “I apologize to my family and constituents. I plan on taking responsibility through the courts on my decision making. I apologize for letting my constituent’s down and I am moving forward with my professional and personal life and would like to put this chapter behind me.”

She said she was “mortified” that she would be driving while drunk. Her former husband was a sergeant in the sheriff’s department who was killed by a drunk driver.

“I am always saying that it is the one thing you totally don’t do is drive drunk,” she said.

Fiscelli mentioned the township board session held earlier that evening was particularly stressful.

“I’m not making excuses,” she said. “But this should not be how it is for a politician – being run through the mill. It will prevent others from running for office. I would just ride out the time until my term ended if I was a different person, but I won’t.”

Fiscelli has been in office since November 2012 and her term ends in 2016.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette apologized Thursday to two journalists who were slapped with subpoenas by his office for news gathering on allegations of juvenile prisoner abuse in state prisons.

Sounding embarrassed, Schuette said he called Huffington Post reporter Dana Liebelson and Michigan Radio host Cynthia Canty to apologize for subpoenas sent to them by staff attorneys for information they obtained from plaintiffs and an attorney suing the Department of Corrections. A Minneapolis class action lawyer represents groups of people suing an organization whose actions have inflicted damages upon them.

"I said I was sorry and there's no excuse for that," Schuette said in a conference call Thursday evening with reporters. "It should not have happened. It will not happen again."

The Republican attorney general said he did not learn about the subpoenas until Monday while he was on a family skiing vacation in Colorado, when Liebelson disclosed the two subpoenas she was served during interviews with inmates last Thursday and Friday at state prisons in Ionia and Lapeer.

Schuette ordered the subpoenas immediately withdrawn Monday — the day the third subpoena arrived at Michigan Radio's office seeking "complete and unedited" audio and video recordings of a March 3 interview of an Ann Arbor attorney representing inmates who are suing the state for alleged sexual and physical abuse sustained as juveniles.

"He did apologize," said Canty, host of Michigan Radio's "Stateside" program. "And I am certainly accepting the apology."

Liebelson could not be reached Thursday for comment. But on Monday, she told The Detroit News she was served the first subpoena March 5 during the middle of an interview with one of the inmates suing the state at the Michigan Reformatory Prison in Ionia.

She identified the Attorney General's Office employee as David Dwyre, a special agent in the criminal division.

The next day, Liebelson said Dwyre was waiting for her at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, the site of a third scheduled interview with a juvenile prisoner who is suing the state.

Liebelson said it was "intimidating" to be followed across the state from one prison to another.

Schuette would not disclose Thursday whether disciplinary action was taken against any of the attorneys involved in the subpoenas or the process that was followed in authorizing the subpoenas.

"I'm not going to go back into it," Schuette told reporters.

Deborah LaBelle, the Ann Arbor attorney whose radio interview with Canty was subpoenaed, said the Attorney General's Office has deployed "scorched earth" legal tactics in trying to get her class-action lawsuit dismissed. The lawsuit alleges that officials in the Michigan Department of Corrections failed to prevent abuse of juvenile inmates at the hands of adult prisoners and guards. A Charleston class action lawyer is following this story closely.

LaBelle said she hoped Schuette's apology to the journalists would signal the end of "abusive tactics" by state attorneys in the case.

"Hopefully this is a new day in the case and the direction of the attorneys involved in the case," she said.

Schuette, who just began his second four-year term as attorney general, said very few of the evidence-seeking subpoenas pursued by the state's 275 attorneys rise to his desk for approval.

"If I reviewed every subpoena the Department of Attorney General issued, everything would grind to a halt," Schuette said.

He said he bears responsibility for the mistake.

"I'm not throwing nobody under the bus, that's not what I do," Schuette told reporters.

In the future, though, Schuette said if state attorneys believe they need to compel journalists to disclose their notes or unpublished work product, the subpoena request will have to go through him.

The attorney general said the future use of subpoena power against journalists would remain "very infrequent, if at all."

Asked how many other times journalists have been subpoenaed under his watch since 2011, Schuette replied: "To the best of my knowledge, none."

06 March 2015


Original Story: macombdaily.com

A teacher at Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township has been charged with criminal sexual conduct following allegations of inappropriate contact with a 16-year-old female student.

Christopher David Cowles, 23, of Clinton Township faces one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was arraigned at 41B District Court and is jailed in lieu of $250,000 cash or surety bond. A criminal law attorney represents clients charged with criminal conduct.

Township police Capt. Richard Maierle said the alleged contact by Cowles occurred with the teenager at the teacher’s home last year. The girl, now 17, reported it to her parents who then contacted police.

Detectives obtained a warrant from the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office and subsequently arrested Cowles at his home. He was taken into custody without a struggle, police said.

Cowles, a career and technical education teacher, was placed on administrative leave Jan. 12 after police notified school administrators they were investigating allegations that he may have been involved in an inappropriate relationship with one of his female students, district officials said in an email to Chippewa Valley High School parents and staff.

In addition to relieving Cowles of his teaching assignment, school officials have prohibited him from being on the high school grounds, attending any school event and contacting any students. A Charleston education lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Chippewa Valley officials hired Cowles in January 2014 to fill a vacancy. He passed a criminal background check.

“We have pledged our support to the police and the prosecutor’s office and will continue to cooperate with them as they move forward with this matter. The allegations made against Mr. Cowles are serious ones, and we intend to deal with them in an appropriate manner. Based upon a review of the specific charges against him, he faces permanent dismissal from Chippewa Valley Schools,” the email authored by Principal Jerry Davisson and Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts states.

“We are proud of Chippewa Valley High School’s fine educational program, and we are committed to providing our students, parents and staff with a safe and positive school environment. Although information (of criminal allegations) can be upsetting, we want to assure you that the situation is being handled appropriately by our staff and our school district,” Davisson and Roberts wrote. An Atlanta education attorney is following this story closely.

Clinton Township police confirmed Cowles has no prior criminal convictions.

Third-degree criminal sexual conduct is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The offense involves sexual penetration and a variety of circumstances including a victim who is 13-15 years old, or is a student 16-17 years old and the offender is employed as a teacher, substitute teacher or administrator of any public or non-public school.

Cowles is scheduled to return to district court for a probable-cause conference March 4. He also awaits a preliminary hearing March 11 for prosecutors to prove there is sufficient evidence for Cowles to be bound over to Macomb County Circuit Court for trial.

04 March 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Michigan taxpayers funnel $1 billion a year to some 380 charter schools exempt from much of the regulations and oversight that constrain the state's traditional public schools.

State lawmakers responsible for this arrangement defend it by asserting that students benefit when they have more educational options, that charter schools offer students in many low-income neighborhoods a better education than the one available at their local public school, and that competition for students and the state funding that follows them gives all schools an incentive to improve.

But a new analysis by one of the nation's most respected educational foundations challenges each of these premises. While recognizing that Michigan's best charter schools are delivering on their promise to provide an education as good or better than the one offered by traditional public schools, the report card released Thursday by the Education Trust-Midwest provides persuasive evidence that the authorizers and operators who serve the majority of Michigan's charter school students are falling short of that standard.

Education Trust's analysis also reveals that a handful of colleges and school districts responsible for a disproportionate share of the state's worst-performing charter schools are continuing to authorize new charters at a frantic pace. An Atlanta charter school lawyer is experienced in education law and charter school compliance.

Since 2011, when Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation giving such institutions unchecked authority to open or expand an unlimited number of charter schools, more than 80 charter schools have opened for business in Michigan, including many sponsored by the state's worst-performing authorizers and run by operators with similarly poor track records.

Among those contributing to this unprecedented expansion are Eastern Michigan University (12 charter schools) and Northern Michigan University (10 charters), both of which earned failing grades in Education Trust's exhaustively documented authorizer report card.

It all adds up to an urgent, unambiguous imperative for the governor and legislators who designed this Wild West marketplace:

Lansing needs to impose an immediate moratorium on chronically failing charter authorizers and insist that they meet tougher accountability standards before they are allowed to authorize new charter schools or expand existing ones.

The 'good or better' test

Other studies, including a major investigative project undertaken last year by the Free Press, have criticized the performance and financial practices of the state's charter schools and called for greater transparency and government oversight.

But the Education Trust-Midwest analysis is unique — and uniquely disturbing, in several respects.

Amber Arellano, the group's executive director, says her organization's more than two-year study is the first to examine the track records of the colleges, public school districts and intermediate school districts authorized to approve new charter schools, monitor their performance and renew contracts with charter operators.

Ten of the 16 authorizers evaluated earned grades of A or B by consistently approving or renewing charter schools that demonstrated progress in improving student achievement. But the six authorizers who earned A's accounted for just 13 charter schools, while the six at the bottom of the grading scale (1 C, 3 D's and 2 F's) were responsible for authorizing 153 schools.

The bottom line is that the most prolific authorizers are too often failing to assure that the charters they bring to life are providing students with an option as good or better than the public schools from whom they divert taxpayer money. A Binghamton education lawyer is following this story closely.

And in Michigan, that record of failure can be be lucrative: Authorizers typically take 3% of the annual state funding provided to every charter school they approve, whether or not those schools serve students effective.

Rigorous methodology

Education Trust-Midwest used the same public state accountability data available to charter operators and authorizers to compare both student achievement and year-to-year improvement in math and reading.

To be fair to charters, the report excluded from its analysis schools with less than three years of data or that have converted from traditional public schools to charters in the last three years, as well as those that serve specialized populations, such as strict discipline academies established as an alternative to incarceration.

Individual charter schools were deemed to have met the charter movement's "as good as or better" promise if their students scored in the 50th percentile or above in the state's top-to-bottom ranking of all Michigan schools. Charter schools whose performance fell below the statewide average could also pass the "as good or better" test by demonstrating year-to-year improvement equal to or better than the average school in Michigan and in the public school district where most of its students reside.

Thus, charter schools that draw the largest proportion of their students from Detroit were compared with public schools in Detroit, even if the charter is located outside the city's boundaries. The college or school district responsible for authorizing the charter was judged to have fallen short of the Education Trust's minimum quality standard only if it failed to meet the "as good or better" test for three consecutive years.

"This gives us confidence that when we say a school is not serving its students well, it's really true," the report says.

Just 16 of the state's 40 charter authorizers had amassed enough data to be included in the ETM study. But the 16 serve 96% of the students attending Michigan charters.

Prominent champions of Michigan's charter movement have hastened to dismiss the Education Trust study, mostly on the grounds that its authors were motivated by an animus to the charter movement.

But the evidence provides scant support for this ad hominem critique. Arellano maintains that the Education Trust, which derives nearly all of its funding from nonpartisan groups like the Skillman Foundation, is emphatically "agnostic" on the issue of school governance.

Its authorizer report card goes out of its way to celebrate the successes of responsible authorizers such as Washtenaw Community College and Grand Valley State University, and readily acknowledges the important role such authorizers have played in making higher quality choices available to students served by poorly performing traditional schools.

But no one (except, perhaps, the authorizing institutions themselves) benefits when authorizers enable operators with poor performance records to replicate their formulas for academic failure. That's why Lansing must move expeditiously to put the brakes on the most irresponsible authorizers.

Michigan School Superintendent Mike Flanagan, who has some authority to suspend authorizers for deficient oversight of charter schools in their portfolios, has already put 11 authorizers on notice that they are at risk of suspension. But Flanagan's list does not include some of the authorizers ETM singled out as poor performers, and neither Flanagan no anyone else has sufficient authority to make sure the $1 billion taxpayers provide to support charters is being spent wisely.

Snyder and Republican legislative leaders have both identified charter accountability as a top priority for 2015. While they pursue a comprehensive solution, they should take immediate action to stem the damage Michigan's most irresponsible authorizers are doing right now.

Grading charter authorizers

Education Trust Midwest assessed and graded Michigan's charter school authorizers for more than two years. Its scorecard looked at a number of factors in assigning a grade, including:

  • Did an authorizer give a new contract to an operator (between fall 2011 and 2014) that had more than half or more of its other schools not meeting a minimum quality standard?

  • What percentage of an authorizer's current schools either performed at or above the 50th percentile or met the average statewide and local district improvement standard for three years in a row?
  • What percentage of an authorizer's schools were in the state's bottom 5% of all schools for two years and didn't show at or above state-average improvement in the second year and are still open?

  • Did an authorizer's schools meet or beat the improvement of the traditional public school where the majority of students come from?

The group then assigned scores to that data and grades according to the overall score.

Charter authorizers without schools open for at least three years were not included. The study also did not include strict discipline academies or schools in a transition mode in the overall grades for each authorizer. Based on this criteria, Ed Trust's report covers 16 of Michigan's 40 auth­orizers, including 96% of the students in Michigan's charter schools.

Grade: A

Washtenaw Community College

Schools measured: 1

Total schools: 1

Washtenaw ISD

Schools measured: 1

Total schools: 1

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Schools measured: 1

Total schools: 1

Wayne RESA

Schools measured: 2*

Total schools: 7

Hillsdale ISD

Schools measured: 2

Total schools: 2

Macomb ISD

Schools measured: 1

Total schools: 1

Grade: B

Lake Superior State University

Schools measured: 7*

Total schools: 30

Ferris State University

Schools measured: 16*

Total schools: 30

Grand Valley State University

Schools measured: 36*

Total schools: 63

Bay Mills Community College

Schools measured: 33*

Total schools: 48

Grade: C

Central Michigan University

Schools measured: 50*

Total schools: 73

Grade: D

Oakland University

Schools measured: 8*

Total schools: 10

Detroit Public Schools

Schools measured: 4*

Total schools: 14

Saginaw Valley State University

Schools measured: 20*

Total schools: 34

Grade: F

Eastern Michigan University

Schools measured: 9*

Total schools: 12

Northern Michigan University

Schools measured: 7*

Total schools: 10

*In many cases, the number of schools measured do not match the number of schools in the authorizer's portfolio. This is because the only schools measured were those that had three years of academic data.