BCS authorized online charter school enrolling students

District enters into three-year agreement with Mosaica

BALDWIN — With a new school year on the horizon, Baldwin Community Schools will add another school to the list that it oversees this year; albeit not a physical school. BCS has entered into a three-year contract with Mosaica Education to act as the authorizer and fiduciary agent for the latter’s newest online charter school, Michigan Mosaica Online Charter Academy. The district has already received word that the agreement was approved by the Michigan Department of Education, but BCS Superintendent Stiles Simmons expects to formally receive notification of the approval soon. Michigan Senate Bill No. 619, signed into law in May 2012, allows for the creation of Internet charter schools if they are authorized by a public school district, intermediate school district or community college. Under the agreement, BCS would not be liable for anything, Simmons said, and it would only require him to have minimal responsibilities and oversight of the academy’s board. The incentive for BCS to enter into the agreement is a financial one. The authorizing district receives 3 percent of the academy’s per pupil funding, which is approximately $7,000 from the State of Michigan. If the academy enrolls 100 students, BCS would receive $21,000. The increased revenue could mean the district could hire new staff or purchase new textbooks or technology equipment, Simmons said. “There are an array of things that $20,000 to $21,000 can buy for us here at Baldwin since we are so small and have a pretty significant impact,” he said. Mosaica has begun advertising the school, enrolling students and hiring staff, Simmons said. Students from across the state are eligible to enroll in the academy, but the online charter is targeted toward homeschooled students or students who travel often, like those in military families. While negotiating the agreement, Simmons said a non-compete clause could be added to the contract. However, that did not happen. “Per the law, we can’t restrict them from directly competing with our district,” Simmons said. “But it is kind of a gentlemen’s agreement that they won’t actively recruit students from our school district.” The online school will have no physical presence at BCS; its offices are located in Lansing. It will function like a traditional school by hiring certified teachers, performing background checks, taking attendance, having video conferencing and lessons, assigning homework and keeping parents informed. Simmons said Mosaica’s goal is to enroll 50 students during the first school year, but would eventually like to have as many as 1,000 students. It has taken the educator two years to enroll 100 students in online academies in other states, he added. According to its website, Mosaica operates more than 90 elementary, middle and high school programs in the United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates and India. It operates both online schools and brick-and-mortar schools. It operates nine schools in Michigan. Simmons was initially approached by Mosaica — his former employer — with the idea for the agreement in August. In December, Mosaica representatives gave a presentation to the BCS Board of Education. By April, a contract was ready and it was approved by the board. Simmons is aware that charter schools can be controversial and that Mosaica’s practices have been questioned in the past. He says Mosaica’s track record is “mixed,” but that the educator is divided into multiple parts that work pretty much independently of each other and its online division has shown to be a viable program in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California. He added that the contract has been vetted by an experienced attorney in the field and he is “looking forward to a long and fruitful partnership” with the educator. “(The Michigan Department of Education) receives numerous applications for districts to charter their own online academy, school or program,” Simmons said. “They receive applications from for-profit educational providers to start online charter academies and they have a pretty stringent process. The fact that Mosaica hired an attorney who helped start other online academies — the one in Manistee is the one that really stands out to me because it is so close to us — says a lot. ... The application wouldn’t be approved by MDE if they didn’t believe Mosaica could provide a quality program.”