EAA safety questioned by two Michigan lawmakers (The Detroit News)

by Jennifer Chambers, April 26, 2013

State Sen. Coleman Young III, D-Detroit, announced Friday morning he will introduce a measure that would mandate a higher level of training for contracted security workers in EAA schools. (David Coates/The Detroit News)

Detroit — A day after a $6 million loan to the Education Achievement Authority from Detroit Public Schools was made public, two state lawmakers said they have concerns about student safety at EAA schools.

State Sen. Coleman Young III, D-Detroit, said Friday morning he will introduce a measure that would mandate a higher level of training for contracted security workers in EAA schools.

Young said officers have told him they lack basic training in CPR, experience high turnover among staff members and get little support from contractor Prudential Protective Service, the company hired by the EAA to provide security officers at all 15 schools.

“I’m not going to wait for a tragedy to happen. That’s why I’m introducing an amendment that will put our kids’ safety first. Companies that receive taxpayer dollars need to abide by the law and ensure the highest safety standards for our children,” Coleman said as he stood outside Cadillac Place, which houses offices for the state of Michigan, which operates the EAA.

Coleman said he would attach the amendment to current EAA bills moving through the Michigan Legislature. He wants action before the state moves to expand the EAA, the statewide system for failing schools.

State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, also called for further scrutiny of EAA security officials, saying a lack of safety for students “is another indictment of this failed experiment.”

Robert Booker, an EAA security officer, said he was recently injured responding to a gang fight at Central High School

“We find knives, guns, drugs all the time,” Booker said. “Officers are doing the best they can, but Prudential isn’t helping us. Officers come and go all the time because we don’t have the training and support.”

EAA Chief of Staff Tyrone Winfrey said the district contracts with two agencies — the Detroit Public Schools Police Department and Prudential Security — to provide security services.

“We take any allegation of unsafe conditions seriously and are ready to thoroughly investigate each allegation if we are provided with the details so that we can follow up. At the same time, to the extent this is an attempt by the SEIU to organize Prudential employees, that is an issue between Prudential and the SEIU,” Winfrey said.

A Prudential official said the claims are inaccurate and unfair and are rooted in an attempt to unionize the security guards rather than a sincere concern for students and staff at the EAA schools. The guards make $9 an hour, the company said.

“This is politics at its worst. Rather than taking the proper steps to organize our employees, the union is exploiting children in an attempt to discredit Prudential and its employees,” Gerald Collins, company executive vice president, said.

An official with Service Employees International Union Local 1 in Detroit confirmed that SEIU is trying to organize Prudential Security guards, including those at EAA schools.

Chris Siller, Michigan coordinator for the union, said the guards aren’t being paid overtime and none are trained for CPR. Earlier this month, The News reported that in the first five months of the EAA school year, school authorities documented more than 5,000 discipline-related infractions across 15 school buildings in Detroit, ranging from fights to truancy to gambling and disorderly conduct.

The number of reported incidents skyrocketed in the second quarter, from mid-November through the end of January, when 4,000 infractions piled up, including 1,000 truancy cases, 986 disorderly conduct incidents, 63 drug possessions, 33 firearm possessions and 22 physical assaults against staff.

Also reported were 876 cases of insubordination and 52 cases of threats of violence or coercion.

The data represent the first assessment of behavioral problems among the 10,000 students at the EAA schools, which were under Detroit Public Schools management until last fall.

The report’s release comes after the Detroit Police Department disbanded its Gang Squad and sent officers into jobs outside schools and neighborhoods. At the same time, Michigan lawmakers are debating bills to expand the reach of the EAA and codify it into state law.

The News reported Friday that administrators at the EAA took $6 million in loans from the cash-strapped Detroit school district without approval from EAA board members.

EAA board secretary Mike Duggan told The News on Thursday he learned of the secret loans from a constituent Wednesday night, but he never heard of the loans at monthly EAA board meetings, which he says he regularly attended.

“The board has never approved a loan from DPS. I’m pretty confident the board was never advised of it, either,” Duggan told The News.

The loans came to light this week in documents obtained by state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The EAA is a newly formed statewide school district created by Gov. Rick Snyder to take over the state’s lowest performing schools. DPS loaned the EAA the $6 million by borrowing the money through the Michigan Finance Authority, with repayments guaranteed based on the EAA’s future state funding payments, said Caleb Buhs, spokesman for the state Treasury Department, which approved the loans.

“This was a good arrangement for both as DPS has a vested interest in the success of the EAA and DPS’ payments are protected by state aid from EAA,” Buhs said late Thursday.

DPS spokesman Steve Wasko could not be reached for comment.

The EAA opened its doors in September. It raised $15 million in private donations, money intended to finance start-up costs while the district waited to collect state aid for each student it educates.

“The EAA was simply faced with cash-flow timing challenges, and to cover the difference when donation commitment and pledges were made versus came in, as well as when their state aid payment would come in,” Snyder spokesman Sara Wurfel said late Thursday.

Snyder-backed legislation seeking to expand the reform district’s reach to 50 schools failing statewide is pending in the state Senate.

The EAA asked for and received a $2 million loan from the state in January to fund operations and technology improvements after philanthropic funds fell short.

“I’ve asked about the cash flow issues at every board meeting,” Duggan said.

One email Lipton obtained shows Snyder’s transformation manager, Richard Baird, was sent a copy of a Sept. 7 message about the EAA needing $3 million for payroll from DPS. Baird was involved in the transaction because he is secretary/treasurer of the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, a group that helped finance the EAA’s start-up costs, Wurfel said.

The documents also show a $2 million loan by DPS to EAA to pay vendors and another $1.8 million for various payments. DPS chief financial officer Bill Aldridge signed off on all the requests.

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