The mouse was small and dead inside a Detroit Public School classroom.
Mayor Mike Duggan saw the rodent Tuesday, during a tour of several schools with city officials looking for health and safety violations. The mayor, who also saw youngsters wearing their coats in a chilly classroom, said his building visits spurred him to seek immediate solutions to problems in the schools he described as “deeply disturbing.”
“I’ve seen a range of conditions,” he said Tuesday morning after visiting Fisher Magnet Lower Academy. “Some building were well-maintained and some were deeply disturbing and I plan to look at a few more today. What I’m dealing with is making sure every building is safe.”
DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski responded via email late Tuesday, writing: “The mouse the mayor saw today was found in a trap that had been set by the district's pest control contractor. Since school was closed yesterday and today, the custodians had likely not yet seen it. The fact that it was in the trap indicates that we were addressing the issue.”
Duggan visited four schools Tuesday morning and planned to visit two more in the afternoon. He said he will meet with building and safety officials to develop a plan to address the district as a whole by Wednesday.
The visits are in response to recent sickouts by district teachers, which brought to light what they describe as intolerable and unsafe working conditions in many buildings. The mass teacher absences forced DPS to shut down 24 schools Tuesday and 64 on Monday.
Zdrodowski said the district does its best to maintain schools with an average age of 47 years old.
“There may be buckled floors or missing ceiling tiles, but the majority are in fairly good condition,” she said. “We are dedicated to keeping safe and good, clean operating conditions. When employees raise concerns, we investigate and address them as quickly as we can. We have a major financial crisis and have to prioritize. The priority is to always have a safe learning environment.”
David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, toured the four buildings with Duggan and called the conditions inside unacceptable.
Hecker had a cellphone full of photos taken by a member of the Detroit Federation of Teachers at Osborn High School, including images of fallen ceiling tiles and some kind of growth on walls. He showed the photos to Duggan as the mayor was leaving Fisher Magnet, but Duggan, who did not visit Osborn, did not respond.
“No child in Flint should have to drink lead in water and no child in Detroit should have to learn under such conditions,” Hecker said.
Duggan would not identify the school where he saw the dead mouse, but Hecker said it was Spain Elementary.
“I saw it but stayed away,” the union leader said. “The mayor even remarked about how beautiful the classroom was and how the teacher was doing such a terrific job in such adverse conditions.”
Hecker added, “The governor, legislature and the emergency manager need to take action.”
During his remarks, Duggan called out Gov. Rick Snyder, without mentioning his name, as part of the district’s problems.
“Lansing needs to address these issues with urgency,” he said. “We’re heading toward seven years of state takeover and test scores are low, and there’s a bigger deficit than before. After seven years of running the schools, the state needs to do something.”
Duggan said quick action is needed to fix up the district’s schools and revamp Detroit’s fractured education system, which includes DPS, the state-run Education Achievement Authority and charter schools.
Snyder has proposed a $715 million plan that would create a new, debt-free Detroit school district and a commission to oversee the opening and closing of the city’s schools, but legislation has not been introduced.
“One third of the money in the district is being dedicated to the debt and not to fixing leaky roofs,” the mayor said. “They’ve been talking in Lansing about the district’s future since last spring and they still don’t have a bill ready.”
Earlier, Snyder defended his school reform plan and expressed support for DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley.
“He’s been doing a good job. He’s been working hard,” Snyder said Tuesday morning while visiting the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center. “If you think about it, our goal is to get the Detroit Public Schools to be successful. I’ve proposed a package that involves an investment of over $700 million to improve education in Detroit. I’m not sure why people would want to go out and protest against a solution like that.”
DFT interim president Ivy Bailey said the adverse conditions inside Detroit schools are nothing new. In fact, she said, they’re only drawing attention now because of the teacher sickouts.
“We brought these issues about a lack of resources and unacceptable working conditions — there was a list of things — and nothing happened,” she said.
She emphasized that she does not necessarily support the sickouts but that she does support the teachers.
“When you are backed into a corner, this is what happens,” she said. “It shouldn’t have come to this. Some time, sooner or later, they must put the children first.”
Duggan called some of the conditions he saw “heartbreaking.”
“I saw 4-year-olds in a classroom where it was about 50 degrees,” he said. “They told me they usually wear their coats until lunchtime, when they warm up a bit ... because there’s a part of each day they actually expect to have to wear their coats in the classroom.”
But Steve Conn, the former DFT president who has encouraged the teacher sickouts, called the mayor’s tour a publicity stunt.
“The mayor’s tour of the schools is nothing but a dog and pony show, designed to cover-up his own schemes to attack public education in Detroit,” he said in a statement. “The teachers can win real improvements in the schools and stop the destruction of DPS only by striking now. The mayor’s real concern is that if the teachers do strike, the people of Detroit will be on our side.”
Melissa Nann Burke contributed.