Thompson still wants new charter schools

Grand Valley State University okays first academy

Bob Thompson’s desire to open new schools in Detroit took a major step forward at the end of April, when Grand Valley State University approved a charter for Public School Academies of Detroit.

The new school, scheduled to open in 2008, would be called University Prep Math and Science and be run by New Urban Learning, which already runs University Prep, a charter started by Thompson in 2000.

Thompson first came forward with an offer of $200 million in 2003 to build 15 charter high schools in Detroit, but withdrew the offer after strong opposition arose from the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Despite the passage of a new state law that still allows for 15 new schools, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Gov. Jennifer Granholm withdrew their initial support in the face of union complaints.

Thompson in 2005 renewed the offer, teaming with the Skillman Foundation and former Detroit Pistons star Dave Bing. The group filed an application in August 2005 with Grand Valley State University to charter the schools, with Thompson paying for construction and Skillman paying for the day to day costs. Bing, a successful Detroit businessman, was the group’s public liaison. The plan, however, continued to face harsh opposition, with the Detroit teachers union telling Michigan Education Report that the group was prepared to sue to stop the schools from being established.

That application was eventually withdrawn, however, when the foundations indicated that trying to plan 15 schools could hinder other plans to open the "Bing School" in the north end of Detroit.

"We didn’t want to let Northend parents down by taking too long to get a school up and running," Carol Goss, president and CEO of Skillman, said in a press release last December. "Both foundations decided that we should focus our energies on working with Dave Bing to make the Northend school a reality."

That school is expected to open in the fall of 2007, but will not be a charter, Goss indicated. It will most likely be a contract school, affiliated with Detroit Public Schools. A contract school is run through a conventional public school district and has unionized teachers, but allows for some flexibility on things such as class periods in the day. A similar relationship exists now between Skillman and DPS for Communication and Media Arts High School.

Among the seven members Grand Valley appointed to PSAD’s board of directors are Deborah Ball, dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education, James Nicholson, CEO of PVS Chemicals, Dan Varner, CEO of Think Detroit and Bing.