North Star CEO offers resignation

MARQUETTE – A growing rift between North Star Academy administration, its board of directors, and Northern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office was brought to light during a North Star board meeting Wednesday night.

North Star is chartered by NMU.

In a letter to NMU’s board dated June 19, North Star Superintendent and CEO Karen Anderson’s attorney Steven Pence, of the Marquette law firm Pence & Numinen, said the relationship between Anderson and NMU’s Charter Schools Office was one of harassment and hostility.

“This letter is sent to you not as a threat, nor as a complaint, but rather to inform you that Ms. Anderson is giving her Board notice today that she will be leaving her position in August as a direct result of Charter School Office personnel and their related associates,” the letter states.

In Anderson’s letter of resignation to North Star’s board, dated June 20, she says “It may be in your best interest to pursue support by another charter school authorizer. It could be less costly and more conducive to a mutually beneficial, quality working relationship. The current arrangement may be even more difficult for a new administrator.”

The letter says Anderson intends to resign Aug. 22 and will help the board in hiring a new superintendent.

The board offered its full support to Anderson Wednesday, and did not accept her resignation.

Rather, the board’s personnel committee will meet with Anderson to discuss what needs to happen to keep her at the school.

Stephanie Abata, middle/high school principal, read a prepared statement to the board highlighting the accomplishments the school has achieved under Anderson’s direction, including hugely increasing student enrollment, adding preschool through sixth grades, adding an elementary wing and adding the Community Environmental Education Program, among other things.

“I feel strongly that the Board should endorse Karen and ask her to rescind her resignation,” Abata said. “Also, I am requesting that we ask NMU for oversight from staff that has no conflicts of interest.”

William Pistulka, who heads NMU’s Charter Schools Office, declined to comment during the meeting after being asked if he would like to by the board and also said after the meeting that he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

Several teachers and one former board member also spoke in support of Anderson during public comment.

Anderson wasn’t the only one to express issues in dealing with NMU’s Charter Schools Office during the meeting.

Several members of the board said they felt as though they were blind-sided by a June 13 e-mail from NMU’s office of Academic Affairs in which several compliance issues they thought had been resolved were found to still be outstanding.

“As you know, the previous charter contract term had its share of challenges, some of which remain unresolved,” the email states. “Those challenges include, among other things, the Academy’s financial struggles, failure to pay oversight fees, issues with meeting MUSIC insurance requirements, and non-compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.”

MUSIC stands for Michigan Universities Self-Insurance Corporation.

The email goes on to say because these issues have yet to be resolved, the NMU Board of Trustees had authorized a one-year charter contract that is renewable for an additional five years.

Board Vice President Roger Zappa said he and other board members had gone to the Charter Schools Office May 5 to discuss compliance issues, adding the group went through a list line by line to address the concerns of the Charter Schools Office staff.

“The correspondence I received this past week led me to believe I wasn’t at the same meeting,” Zappa said.

Board President Patricia Martin said the Charter Schools Office staff had threatened to remove North Star’s charter several times in the past.

Anderson stressed after the meeting the issues between NMU’s Charter Schools Office and North Star would not have any affect on the school’s educational quality.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.