Detroit — A major electrical outage prompted the closure of 29 Detroit Public Schools on the eve of the winter Count Day, when school districts across Michigan report student attendance to receive state aid.
DPS officials said they are extremely concerned that the power outages by the city’s public lighting system will continue on Wednesday and that thousands of children will be forced to stay home during one of two biggest days of the year for districts to qualify for state aid.
Spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said DPS spoke to officials with the Michigan Department of Education, who told them the district could petition for an alternate Count Day if schools are closed Wednesday because of the power outage.
“We’ve made great progress since the beginning of the school year” with enrollment “and to have this happen the day before Count Day is very concerning,” she said.
Zdrodowski said district Emergency Manager Jack Martin reached out to city officials, including Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Mayor Mike Duggan, and Gov. Rick Snyder.
The governor is “monitoring the situation closely,” said spokeswoman Sara Wurfel.
Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said the lighting department falls under the mayor’s purview.
Alexis Wiley, a spokeswoman for Duggan, said public works crews planned to work through the night to resolve the outages so schools could open Wednesday.
“The fact that students have lost so many days of learning due to the failure of our public lighting system is completely unacceptable to Mayor Duggan,” she said.
School officials will be counting the state’s 1.5 million students in traditional public and charter schools on Wednesday, when 10 percent of a district’s per-pupil funding is determined.
The fall Count Day in October represented 90 percent of funding. Both numbers determine funding for the 2013-14 school year.
Michigan districts get a minimum of $7,026 per pupil in state aid. Many districts spend more, depending on local tax millages.
DPS announced the closure of 29 schools Tuesday morning, saying it “has experienced a major outage of electrical service from the Detroit Public Lighting Department. PLD has advised that four substations have failures and that a return to power is not predictable.”
Zdrodowski said the district has spoken to the city’s lighting department about the problem.
“We have a good working relationship with them and Orr and Duggan. Their infrastructure is aging and there is an increase in theft of copper wires,” she said.
Excessive power outages this school year are affecting instruction in the district, where test scores have been historically the lowest in the state.
In the 2012-13 school year, there were 39 power outages. In the first six months of this school year, the district has experienced 160 outages, Zdrodowski said.
Different schools have lost different numbers of days: Edison Elementary lost six, while Mason Elementary lost nine. That does not include seven district-wide snow days this winter.
Zdrodowski said instruction time will have to be made up, either at the end of the year with additional days or by adding minutes to remaining days.
The Education Achievement Authority shut three of its 12 schools due to the power outage.
Terry Abbott, spokesman for the EAA, said the district can ask the state Department of Education to approve another Count Day if it’s affected by the outages on Wednesday.
Outages affected five EAA schools on Jan. 10 and some others in November. Last school year, students at Central Collegiate Academy and Ford High School lost four days of classes because of outages.
“The issue is serious enough that we’ve contacted the mayor’s office and are working with PLD to try to get help in dealing with it,” Abbott said.
Tuesday’s outage forced closures at Central Collegiate Academy, Ford High School and Burns Elementary/Middle School.
Sen. Coleman A. Young II, D-Detroit, said Tuesday the Public Lighting Authority was created by the state to improve the performance and services provided to the citizens of Detroit.
“These outages, however, put the people in further danger. This disruption of the school day also obstructs the learning of our students and jeopardizes their academic well-being,” he said in a statement.