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Duggan supports ending emergency control of DPS

Tom Greenwood and Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Mayor Mike Duggan on Tuesday backed a coalition’s recommendation to end emergency management of Detroit schools now overseen by the state and return control back to an elected school board.

Returning control was among the focus recommendations released Monday by the 36-member Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren. The recommendations came after three months of study of the city’s crippled system of public education and persistent financial problems.

The coalition also called for the state to assume $350 million in Detroit Public Schools debt and give a mayoral-appointed commission control of all school closures and openings in the city including independently operated charter schools that usually are overseen by public universities.

The coalition, which sent its recommendations to Gov. Rick Snyder, also wants all Education Achievement Authority schools returned to DPS control. Snyder created the EAA in 2011 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools.

Duggan said in a statement Tuesday that the recommendations deserve “serious consideration” and then outlined his four principles for improving the schools, including:

■ Emergency management should be terminated and the Detroit Public Schools returned to the operational control of the elected school board at the earliest possible date.

“Emergency management has clearly failed to improve our public school system,” said Duggan, who added that he “fully supported DPS in its efforts to resolve its debt burden.”

■ Parents deserve meaningful choice in their children’s education. Duggan said more high-quality schools should be provided, including “more quality charter schools.”

■ Duggan said his office should play an important role in encouraging quality schools, “but we cannot operate the schools ... we need to leave school operations to DPS and the charters.”

■ Duggan said he supported the idea of a mayor-appointed Detroit Education Commission “to make sure real choice is available to all our children and to assure complete information is available to all parents to make those choices.”

At an event Tuesday, Duggan said such a commission should establish a set of rules for both public and charter schools, including fairness in locating schools geographically in all areas of the city. This would ensure schools open in under-served neighborhoods and prevent new schools from opening in neighborhoods with a lesser need, he said.

“I see the commission’s role as creating a level playing field and then letting the charters and the public schools run their own operations and improve as we go along,” Duggan said.

Duggan said he looks forward to meeting with Snyder to discuss details of the coalition’s recommendations, including for the state to assume $350 million in district debt.

“(The debts) have been run up since the state seized control. It wasn’t the school board,” Duggan said. “The state took control with the emergency manager, ran up that debt and I think there is a strong argument that it’s a state responsibility.”

In a statement Tuesday, the leader of the union that represents DPS teachers said control of the district should be returned to the school board, without mayoral oversight.

“We completely oppose having the mayor appoint a commission empowered to close public schools, open more charters and oversee the elected school board,” said Steve Conn, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. “The existence of the appointed commission with control over an elected school board makes that school board’s power a joke.”

Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said in a statement it’s “encouraging to see the mayor so engaged in this process.”

“We are concerned, though, when we hear talk of a ‘gatekeeper’ that would come between parents and their schools,” he said. “We shouldn’t be putting politicians in charge of when and where schools open.”

After appearing Tuesday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Health Care Leaders Forum in Detroit, Snyder would not address whether he would consider handing district control back to an elected school board.

“I don’t want to create … speculation on that,” he said.

Asked if he thinks the state of Michigan should shoulder the Detroit school system’s debt, Snyder said the Detroit district is among many statewide with long-standing financial difficulties.

“With respect to debt, that’s something where we would have to carefully consider, and really not look at bailouts per se, but to say if it’s helpful for long-term sustainability we need to be open-minded,” he said.

Snyder asked the coalition for new ideas on raising achievement standards and better coordinating the delivery of education within the city’s patchwork of public schools run by DPS, independent charter schools and the Educational Achievement Authority, which took over 15 former DPS schools.

Duggan said improving schools is a key to the city’s comeback.

“Detroit is not going to be great city until every child is going to a quality school,” he said. “We have a long way to go but I’m very supportive of (the coalition’s) recommendations.”

(313) 222-2023

Staff Writers Karen Bouffard and Shawn D. Lewis contributed.