$27 million grant to United Way, partner of Excellent Schools
By Russ Bellant
The GM Foundation announced on Dec. 10 that they made their largest grant ever, $27.1 million, to United Way of Southeastern Michigan (fka United Way of Detroit) to set up 20 academies in five area high schools. The high schools have not been named.
United Way is a signatory partner of the Excellent Schools Detroit plan for setting up privately controlled high schools to displace DPS high schools, funded by area foundations, including Skillman, Kresge, Kellogg and McGregor. The “incubator” for starting new schools for the Excellent Schools group is Michigan Future Inc. in Ann Arbor. MFI has been trying to get national foundations to fund the Excellent Schools plan to start up 35 high schools south of 12 mile and east of Telegraph. Whether in Detroit or a northern suburb, they are being set up to recruit DPS students.
Whether GM Foundation is funding the Excellent Schools or just a group that supports the plan is unclear. The nature and governance of the 20 academies is unclear. United Way was part of creating smaller high schools at Osborn and Cody which remained DPS schools.
United Way was a supporter of Mayoral control in the battle waged last summer, with Michael Tenbusch (former member of the state takeover board at DPS) leading the way for United Way. Tenbusch had previously set up Think Detroit, an athletic league, in the 1990’s, with Daniel Varner, who became a program officer of the Kellogg Foundation on April 29 and was recently appointed to the State Board of Education by Granholm to replace Reggie Turner.
As a program officer at Kellogg, Varner oversees the $7.5 million grant to Michigan Future Inc/Excellent Schools. How Varner will use his state board position to advance his day job projects has yet to be seen, but Varner is one of eight people that directly control Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan’s contract.
He can push for more Michigan Department of Education influence to help Varner/Kellogg/Excellent Schools. Varner does not have to push hard on Flanagan, however; Flanagan is on the board of Michigan Future Inc, to set up the private school network, a pretty clear conflict with his duty to help DPS. In fact, there are a lot of ethically questionable relationships here.
(ed. note: The bills sponsored by State Rep. Fred Durhal, which he intends to bring back in the next legislative session, hand control of schools with deficits to Flanagan in exchange for tobacco settlement funds, which will go to the banks to pay off part of the schools’ huge debt loads.)
Kellogg has been a major funder of the Detroit Parent Network, so Varner has some leverage with them as well. It should be noted that Kellogg has taken the DPN grant off its website, however. Skillman recently committed $750,000 to DPN, a group started by Bob Thompson when he was pushing charter schools in Detroit.
Skillman has already given over a million dollars to DPS prior to this recent grant. All the Excellent Schools foundations have given DPN support in the last couple years. Two of them, Kresge and Kellogg, were the secret paymasters to Robert Bobb when it was announced that his contract was renewed in March. Research eventually unearthed their role in partially funding Bobb’s compensation. In turn, Bobb is also a signatory to the Excellent Schools plan to tear apart Detroit Public Schools and is permitting them to use DPS facilities to launch some schools. Another huge conflict of interest.