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Proposed charter school could have huge ripple effect

The former St. Lad's Elementary School may be turned into a charter school that caters to the Bengali community.

By Charles Sercombe

Hamtramck may soon have a new charter school catering to the Bengali community.

According to a memo from Hamtramck Public School District Superintendent Tom Niczay, St. Lad’s former elementary school may have been sold to The Greater Detroit Community Development Foundation Inc.

Niczay said foundation organizers met with him and School Board President Betty Zwolak, to discuss having the district authorize their charter school.

“They said that they are doing HPS ‘a favor’ and can easily receive a charter from a university,” Niczay said in his memo.

Niczay gave The Review a copy of the memo.

The foundation organizers are Dr. Mohammad Siddiuqe, who operates Deshi Pharmacy on Conant near Carpenter, and former Holbrook Elementary School employee Mohammad Huda and his brother, who was not named.

The downside of the deal is that Hamtramck’s public schools could lose about $7,000 for each student who transfers from the district. Niczay said that if 250 public school students transferred, the district would lose $1.7 million.

Niczay said in the memo that the charter organizers are not seeking to recruit public schools students here. Instead, they are targeting students in Detroit, Warren and charter schools in Hamtramck.

Foundation organizers promised Niczay that if a Bengali student from Hamtramck’s public schools opts to transfer, the district will be given a “heads up” in order to convince the student and his or her family to stay.

In total, organizers told Niczay that they can recruit 1,391 students, based on a survey they took.

Hamtramck Public Schools would receive 3 percent per pupil funding if it sponsors the charter school. Niczay said that, at 500 students, it would equal $102,000.

All the district would have to do, besides lend its name to the project, is a few hours of paperwork each week, said the charter school organizers.

The proposed charter school would initially be open to students in kindergarten through 8th grade. School organizers said they would eventually open a high school, possibly at Detroit’s Pershing High School.

Ultimately, according to what Niczay was told, the foundation was making this partnership offer as a “favor,” but they also said that they would open a charter school at the St. Lad’s building “with you or without you so let’s work together.”

The public school district had been leasing St. Lad’s school for the past several years, and operated it under the name of Dickinson West Elementary School. The district ended the lease this year because of declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.

Niczay said a formal presentation will be made at the regular board meeting of Dec. 12. In the meantime, Niczay is seeking input from all of the district’s employees, as well as the board.

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