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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

PASSING THE BUCK(S)? Michigan Department of Education Responds...Sort Of

If you were holding your breath, waiting to hear what steps the Michigan Department of Education might take to investigate the Grand Traverse Academy Board's recent decision not to pursue any legal action to recover the estimated $1.67 million dollars owed to the Traverse City charter school by its former management company, convicted felon Steven Ingersoll’s Smart Schools Management, Inc., you can exhale.

It appears the MDE will likely do nothing.

On August 9, three days after receiving an email from Grand Traverse Academy attorney Kerry Morgan (informing me that “litigation is legally precluded because the SSM and GTA contract contains a mandatory arbitration clause. Thus, a lawsuit is not a legal option.”), I sent an email to Mark Eitrem, Supervisor of the MDE's Charter School office.

I asked Eitrem for a comment on the Board's decision...and waited.

Although I realize now I should have been much more direct, Eitrem's answer (non-answer, really) still stunned me.

He punted the question to the MDE's mouthpiece, Martin Ackley.

Eitrem's one-line email, shown at left, was copied both to Ackley and Eitrem's second-in-command, Tammy Hatfield.

Seven minutes after Eitrem forwarded my email, which had been languishing in his inbox for over three weeks, Ackley responded.

Or did he really?
Although proponents of charter schools (for example, the private education service providers) claim that charter schools in Michigan are highly regulated and have a triple layer of oversight, the evidence shows otherwise. 

Ackley couldn't run from my question fast enough, stating in his email that the Grand Traverse Academy Board's decision to effectively surrender millions of taxpayer dollars to Steven Ingersoll was a "local school district contractual and legal issue" and the Michigan Department of Education opted "respectfully" to "decline comment".

Your girl Miss Fortune has already circled back around, pointedly asking the slugs in Lansing this question: how can the Grand Traverse Academy Board of Directors make what appears to be a unilateral decision not to pursue recovery of an estimated $1.67 million dollars using an arbitration clause and unlikely recovery as their excuses?

And although the Board knew at least two years ago that Ingersoll was under federal investigation, it undertook no legal action and instead kept Steven Ingersoll and his management company on the public payroll for another year — until days before he was federally indicted on multiple fraud counts.

So what exactly does the Michigan Department of Education do anyway, other than watch money sail out of Lansing like the NiƱa, Pinta, and Santa Maria?  

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