Former Detroit City Attorney Sharon McPhail continues to lead a Detroit charter school even after the Michigan Department of Education fined the school because she lacks the proper certification for the position.
Bridge reported in August that the Michigan Department of Education had fined Detroit Community Schools, a charter on the city’s west side, more than $144,000 after a previous Bridge story revealed that McPhail and another administrator, Echelle Jordan, were not properly certified as administrators during the previous school year.
Both women continue to work at the school, opening the charter up to an additional fine of $17,916.66 per month “for the continuing employment” of McPhail and Jordan, according to the MDE.
The fines reflect the combined monthly salary the school pays the women while they remain uncertified. Under a 2015 law, schools that are found to violate administrator certification law must repay the state for the salary paid over the time the employee worked without certification.
In total, the school faces a monthly fine of $21,196 -- which includes $17,916.66 in new fines each month plus $3,279.89 a month to pay off the $144,000 owed from last school year.
With the additional $17,000 per month in fines set to be deducted from the school’s funding when 2016-17 school year state aid payments begin to go out to districts in October, McPhail this month sent an email asking that the state consider an appeal.
State Superintendent Brian Whiston agreed to suspend the school’s fines in October pending a review of that appeal. The administrators have until Oct. 6 to submit a written appeal, William DiSessa, an MDE spokesman, told Bridge in an email.
The charter school’s board members did not respond to Bridge emails seeking comment. However, McPhail responded to the emails Bridge sent to the board members, stating that the fines were suspended pending the appeal.
Michigan law requires school administrators who oversee instruction or business operations to be certified by the state within three years of taking the position.
McPhail has led the charter since 2012, serving as superintendent for the K-12 school. After Bridge questioned her lack of certification earlier this year, her title on the school’s website was changed from superintendent to “chief administrative officer.” Echelle Jordan, once the high school principal is now listed on the school’s website as the curriculum leader; she too lacks an administrator certification, state records show.
The laws also allow fines against school officials who allow non-certified staffers to remain on the payroll.
“State law says that if a school official is notified by the department that he or she is employing a non-certified educator and knowingly continues to employ that educator, the school official is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $1,500 for each incidence,” said Disessa of MDE.
The state has not sought charges against the school’s board members, he said.
Detroit Community Schools sits in the high-poverty neighborhood of Brightmoor and has seen troubles since its inception in 1997.
As Bridge previously reported, of the 1,053 students who took the ACT tests since the high school first offered it in 2006-2007, only two had met the college-ready standard in all tested subjects as of April. And at least two of the administrators hired by McPhail have had legal troubles involving misuse of public money.
William F. Coleman III, former superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools, was indicted as part of a Texas bribery scandal in Dallas where he once worked. But he was allowed to plead guilty in 2008 to a reduced charge of attempting to influence a grand jury in return for testifying for the federal government, court records show. As a result, prosecutors also agreed to drop conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges against Coleman in the kickback scheme, which the government valued at roughly $40 million.
The school’s dean is Sylvia James, a former judge. In 2012, the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission recommended James be removed from the district court bench in Inkster, near Detroit, for misusing court funds.
Bay Mills Community College in Brimley in the Upper Peninsula is the school’s authorizer, which means Bay Mills oversees the school and granted it a charter contract allowing it to exist.
Asked what Bay Mills plans to do in response to the fines and the school board’s apparent decision to continue to employ McPhail and Jordan, Bay Mills President Michael Parish told Bridge in an email that his office is following the situation.
“Once there is a resolution,” he said, “we will take the appropriate action at that time.”