Inkster turns to private firm to manage schools

Officials hope to avert state takeover with Edison deal

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Academic failure and budget deficits forced the Inkster board of education to contract with Edison Schools Inc., an education service provider, to rescue the 1,500-student district.

School board members in the Detroit-area Inkster school district in February voted 5-1 to engage New York-based Edison Schools, a full-service education management organization, to run all of the district's schools.

The move makes Inkster only the third school district in the nation to turn over its operations to a private company. From 1993 to 1997, Public Strategies Group Inc., ran the district of Minneapolis and schools in Hartford, Connecticut, contracted with Education Alternatives, Inc., now called Tesseract Group Inc., from 1994 to 1996.

The board hopes that Edison will bring the district out of financial ruin and allow it to avoid a possible state takeover or annexation by another district.

"This route we're looking at is a better route than having the state take over," the Rev. George V. Williams, Inkster school board president, told The Detroit News. "With our problems, we figured [Edison has] a lot more to offer than the local board can put into place."

School officials are negotiating a five-year contract with Edison. The board also considered but rejected proposals from two Michigan companies, Public School Administration Services, Inc., of Southfield and the Leona Group LLC of East Lansing.

Edison has promised to invest $4.5 million in the district, eliminating the district's $1.9-million deficit and allowing it to start the next school year with a budget surplus.

The company also plans to lengthen the school day and year, implement before- and after-school programs, and provide computers to all students, starting with third-graders.

"We have multiple goals," Deborah M. McGriff, an executive vice president with Edison, told Education Week. "We want to improve the academic performance of the students who are there. We want to improve the fiscal stability of the district. And because they have lost so many children to other choices, we want to improve enrollment."

Enrollment in Inkster schools has dwindled over the past 10 years: In 1990, the district had 3,000 students; today, Inkster claims less than 1,500 students, and the four-year high school graduation rate is a dismal 38.7 percent.

Edison Schools has a strong presence in Michigan, managing individual schools within public school districts in Battle Creek, Mt. Clemens, and Flint. The company also manages a number of charter public schools throughout the state.