Harper WoodsJuly 18, 2012
Board gives green light to alternative school contract
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
HARPER WOODS — After seeming to favor working through Oak Park Schools to contract with a company for an alternative school at an earlier meeting, the school board has decided to go it alone and contract with the company itself.
Working directly with ATS, the outside firm that will set up an alternative school program in the city, gives the Harper Woods School District some benefits, including more control and more revenue, which is key to the district’s bottom line.
“We’re pretty determined to have an alternative school in our district,” Board President Brian Selburn said.
“I want ATS to answer directly to us,” he said.
He said this type of program is good for students who need it, and it brings in revenue for the district.
They voted 6-0 to contract with ATS during the Board of Education’s July 10 meeting.
Prior to the July 10 decision, the question was how the contract would happen. The board had concerns initially about taking on the alternative students’ scores as their own, which could affect the district’s AYP status.
If the district’s contract was through Oak Park Schools, which would contract with ATS for schools in Harper Woods, with Harper Woods getting some revenue, Oak Park would take on those scores as their own.
However, district officials know that those scores wouldn’t hurt the status of the district’s current individual schools, which is what most parents are looking at instead of overall district status, according to district officials.
Another issue that caused hesitation was concern that the teacher’s union was opposed to a district contract with an alternative school “for-profit” company.
“There is a potential labor relations issue,” Selburn said. “It may or may not materialize. (But) we’re not going to turn over the operation of this district to our labor groups,” Selburn said.
Superintendent Todd Biederwolf initially said he didn’t feel comfortable causing a potential acrimonious relationship with the union, but changed his view.
He said he realized the revenue would pay for any union challenge outcome, and they have a legal opinion that claims the district has a good chance of winning a challenge. If the union won, the district could have to pay the difference between the lower ATS pay and the union contract pay.
Board members also said that they had tried to reach out to the union to speak to them about the issue, but the union was not interested unless there was something new to relate, Selburn said.
School board members said they were confused about comments from the union in an earlier Advertiser Times article, saying that the union didn’t express those same concerns as the major concerns they’ve raised with the district.
They said the union had expressed to them that their biggest concern was more labor related, as if it was a union-busting issue, which board members have said they are not looking to do.
“I, for one, am certainly not out to bust any union,” Board Vice President David Kien said. “This is a way to augment our revenue, and I fully support it.”
Kien had been adamant at the first meeting on this issue that he wanted to go it alone with the outside company to reap the most revenue.
Biederwolf said the union did mention student-related concerns, but that was not the major concerns that were at the forefront of the discussion.
The union had said in an email after the June meeting that it had concerns about a “for-profit” company coming in that would use state aid and the district’s name. Union representatives had said that they didn’t think it was best for the students. They said they have given suggestions to the district to find a better approach than going with a for-profit company.
The district does have a successful program for students in an alternative setting at the high school. The union wanted to expand that program instead, but board members said that it is a different type of program than the new proposed school, which is something that the district cannot offer in-house.
The district plans to continue its own in-house program as well. They have been told that the new school will not compete with the district for its own students.
The district sat down with ATS at a meeting in late June. ATS plans to lease a couple of buildings in the city to house the new school.
When contacted regarding the July 10 meeting and vote, Harper Woods Education Association President Patricia Schore said the union hasn’t yet been contacted by the district about the meeting outcome. She said she was waiting to hear more information before she would be able to comment further on this issue.
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