Michigan charter schools are required by law to have an authorizer. According to the law, “the authorizing body is responsible for overseeing compliance by the board of directors with the contract and all applicable law.” To provide this oversight, the authorizer captures three percent of per pupil funding for each student. According to Bill DiSessa, a spokesman with the Department of Education, there are “few restrictions on how authorizers may use their 3% administrative fee.” Without restrictions like most public school bodies have, authorizers apparently don’t mind spending your tax money on just about anything.
Case in point: Grand Valley State Charter Office puts on two golf outings each year, one on each side of the state. Each charter school it authorizes can have four board members attend. When I contacted GVSU about the golf outings, I was pleased to get a prompt response from Tim Wood who runs the GVSU Charter School Office (CSO). Wood said, “The GVSU CSO pays for the golf outing. The outing is really an opportunity to thank volunteer board members, charter school administrators, and the profs that assist with our summer camp and campus visits for all their work throughout the school year.” When I inquired how they pay for the golf outing, Wood replied “The overwhelming majority of the GVSU Charter School Office (CSO) budget comes from the 3% administration fee.”
GVSU authorizes 47 charter schools. They have a staff of 22 people to oversee those schools. Tim Wood ,who made $137,700 a year the last time it was reported, oversees the overseers. Yet, GVSU and ten other authorizers were put on notice by the state of Michigan for “deficiencies in key factors of oversight.” If GVSU’s football coach had performed as poorly as Wood has, surely he would have been fired and it would have been front-page news.
Recently, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers said Michigan only follows three of their 27 best practices! When a charter advocacy group gives Michigan charter schools an 11 percent score, you know we have a “Wild West” type system. I believe the state should pull the plug on all authorizers and create its own authorizing body. The opposition to that plan would be strong because authorizers are making a lot of money off our pupils. If charter authorizers have taught anyone anything, it is that Tom Brokow’s famous statement is true: It is easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.