NMU Board Approves New Charter School


The NMU Board of Trustees authorized a new charter school that will open in the fall of 2012 in the Willow Run district near Ypsilanti. The South Pointe Scholars Charter Academy will be a newly constructed facility—initially housing K-5, but building up to K-8. It will be managed by National Heritage Academies, an educational service provider that also manages Northern’s two existing charter schools downstate: Burton Glen and Walton. The latter was reauthorized as a school of excellence under Michigan’s “smart cap” legislation. This created an opportunity for NMU to charter a new school, bringing its total to six.


The Michigan House and Senate this week approved a bill that would gradually lift the cap on the number of charter schools authorized by public universities. The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder. While the proposal presented to the NMU board was developed prior to the legislation, Bill Pistulka (Charter Schools) said eliminating the cap would factor into future discussions. NMU is a relatively small authorizer compared with some universities, such as Central Michigan and Grand Valley State, which oversee more than 30 charter schools.


“I believe NMU has the capacity to add more,” he said. “The demand is certainly there because 70 percent of charter schools, including Walton, have waiting lists. The bill also removes the single-site restriction, which means schools with a waiting list could have additional grades on another site with the same board in place. It’s important to note that.


“Parents are asking for more choice, competition and creativity. But to just go ahead and offer that is not the answer. Quality is critical and the discussion is building as to how you define quality. Is it taking a school district that’s already performing at a high level and maintaining that, or is it targeting an area of need and growing from a low level to a higher-achieving level? Charters typically outperform host districts, especially in urban areas. But there’s a lot of debate. Where’s Michigan going to be at with economic crisis? Does this change K-12 funding in future? How will that funding be dispersed?”


Pistulka said the benefits of adding charter schools include revenue generation (NMU receives 3 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding), the opportunity to increase the quality of K-12 education and increased awareness of NMU in lower Michigan, which could ultimately enhance recruitment and diversity at the university.  


Pistulka told the board’s academic affairs committee NMU is exploring the possibility of opening Experencia Academy in southwest Detroit in the fall of 2013 and participating in the phase I application cycle in January of 2014, which could lead to additional charter schools in 2015.


In other action at today’s meeting, the NMU board:


▪Authorized the university to issue bonds to finance the $16.4 million cogeneration plant and $2.7 million in energy-saving and maintenance projects. The university also will be paying off a 1998 bond series with an outstanding debt of $5.4 million. Moody’s recently affirmed an A1 bond rating with a stable outlook. “We’re happy with that,” said Gavin Leach (Finance and Administration). “The rating reflects the university’s solid financial footing and puts us in good position as we go out on the bond issuance.”

▪Approved the 2012-13 budget development submission sent to the State of Michigan. Instead of an operating budget request, as required in previous years, public universities were asked to supply suggestions for performance measures, goals and other factors that should be considered for a formula funding metric (see related story on Formula Funding).

▪Approved the purchase of a house and property located at 1804 Tracy Ave. at a cost of $130,000 plus related expenses.

▪Accepted nearly $1.6 million in external grants.

▪Appointed two individuals to charter school boards: Nicholas VanAlstine at JKL Bahweting Public School Academy; and Curtis Hewitt at North Star Academy. Both terms end June 30.


▪Approved a resolution honoring Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz, a 1975 NMU graduate who was recently named Fortune magazine’s 2011 Businessperson of the Year.

▪Revised its 2012 meeting schedule to Feb. 16-17, May 3-4, July 11-12 and Sept. 20-21.



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Updated: December 16, 2011

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