Is back rent part of $14.8M EAA owed Detroit schools?
The troubled state reform school district set up to turn around Michigan's worst schools owed Detroit Public Schools $14.8 million in outstanding rent and other services as of this spring — and there appears to be confusion among state and local leaders about whether the EAA still owes the back rent.
Officials from both districts said they are negotiating payment for the services that the Detroit district continues to provide to the Education Achievement Authority, such as security and technology.
EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme, referring to the back rent, told the Free Press in a statement today that: "The governor has been clear with me that the debt was solved for all of us."
A different EAA official told the Free Press in June that recent legislation essentially wiped out the $6 million the EAA was supposed to be paying annually to DPS for using its school buildings.
Conforme asked former DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley in February to sign a lease amendment that would have forgiven the EAA's rent debt, according to an e-mail then-Michigan Chief Deputy Treasurer Thomas Saxton sent on April 4 to key staffers in Snyder's office.
"I advised Darnell not to sign it," he wrote. "Darnell did not sign the amendment before he left and now Veronica has requested Judge Rhodes (the district's current transition manager) to sign it. While we understand forgiving this debt would clear up the EAA’s books, it would be detrimental to DPS."
Saxton said the EAA owed DPS $14.8 million for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, money that includes payment for rent, information technology and security services.
Late today, EAA officials told the Free Press that Conforme told state officials in the spring that the EAA was building its budget around the lease debt being eliminated. It's unclear whether Rhodes, who succeeded Earley, ever signed the amendment.
At an EAA board meeting in June, an EAA official said the annual fees the district is supposed to pay for using DPS buildings dropped from $6 million to $1 because of recent education reform legislation.
Controversy and questions surrounding the lease payments surfaced this week after Robert Davis, a labor activist from Highland Park who spent time behind bars for embezzling $200,000 from Highland Park schools, received copies of Saxton's April e-mails through a Freedom Information Act request.
Following published reports about the e-mails, Conforme expressed frustration with Treasury.
“This is not about neglecting to pay. This about equity for all students who have been Is back rent part of $14.8M EAA owed Detroit schools?: