Private Group Offers to Manage Westwood Schools


A Detroit-area public school district is suing the state to stop students from transferring to other schools and keep the state money that comes with each pupil. A private group has offered to help the school solve its problems without litigation.

Westwood Community Schools district, whose boundaries enclose a racially diverse mixture of 2,200 students, has seen 150 students transfer to charter or other public schools since 1996. The district's attorney claims school choice laws threaten its racial balance and have cost it more than $1 million in per-pupil funding. The district is not required to pay for the education of the pupils who now attend school elsewhere.

Publicity surrounding Westwood's effort to prevent students from crossing its district borders prompted the Mackinac Center for Public Policy to offer to contract with the district to run its operation and stem the loss of students.

Mackinac Center Senior Vice President Joseph Overton said, "Instead of legally barring students from choosing a school, we want to help Westwood become the school that students choose, no matter what district they live in."

In a Detroit News story, School Board President Sandra Rich said the board would "certainly have a discussion over this" and added that the district is "always looking for ways to improve." The story did not state what the district is doing to determine why students had left or what might convince them to return.

Overton said his first step in improving the school would be to survey parents to find out why they were sending their children elsewhere. A Detroit News editorial urged school officials to meet with the Mackinac Center.

School district attorney Daniel Ferrera told the News, "We're becoming a (segregated) district for no reason at all." Overton responded, "If we prevent school choice, parents will simply move out of the district, possibly leaving both the school and the community more segregated."

In addition to public policy research, the nonprofit Mackinac Center offers legal and financial consulting to Michigan schools to help them be more competitive.

This fall, Westwood's neighboring district of Inkster became Michigan's first school system to contract all its operations to a private firm to restore fiscal health and improve educational quality.

Joseph Lehman is Executive Vice President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.