Jacques: Snyder confirms Rhodes is the new DPS manager

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder will end weeks of speculation today by bringing bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes out of retirement to run the Detroit Public Schools on behalf of the state.

And while Rhodes will not be called an emergency manager — the new title is transition manager — a spokesman for the governor said he will handle most, if not all, of the duties previously assigned to Darnell Earley, the emergency manager whose resignation becomes effective today.

“The transition manager would fulfill the role of emergency manager under the laws,” Snyder’s new spokesman, Ari Adler, said. “But Judge Rhodes is anticipating his tenure ending on July 1 under the current legislation.”

At that time, the governor expects an appointed school board to take over DPS and keep the schools running until a board elected in November can take over Jan. 1.

That scenario depends on lawmakers passing the governor’s Detroit education restructuring package. The governor is counting on lawmakers to pass legislation by this summer and turn the district back to an elected school board. That election could happen as early as August.

DPS is set to run out of cash by spring.

“Legislative action is essential to help Detroit Public Schools address the challenges that are holding the district and its students back,” Snyder said in a statement.

Rhodes, according to the statement, will oversee the district’s finances and operations, and is working to name an interim superintendent to oversee the improvement of academics.

The governor’s plan, under debate in the Legislature, would provide $720 million over 10 years to erase the district’s long-term debt.

In the announcement, Rhodes said that would free $1,000 per student currently being spent on debt service to use in the classroom.

“We want to make sure the district’s resources are best spent in the classroom helping students and teachers,” the judge said.

Rhodes, the judge who oversaw the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, is well respected in the city and in Lansing. And he’s already spent some time with lawmakers at Snyder’s request, educating them about the precarious nature of DPS’ finances and the potential negative consequences of the school district going bankrupt. He also met with teachers last week.

Earley, whose 18-month term ran until July 1, was pressured to step down given his tenure in the same role in Flint, during which time the city’s water lead crisis developed. Detroit teachers have brought unsanitary building conditions to light in recent weeks.

While Rhodes’ involvement should signal to lawmakers that bankruptcy is definitely on the table, he personally would not be able to take the district into bankruptcy if that’s what the state decides to do. His time as a bankruptcy judge would likely preclude him from overseeing a district Chapter 9 filing.

The legislation currently before lawmakers would split DPS into an “old company” to pay down past debt and a “new company” that would form a debt-free school district for the 46,000 students who attend DPS.

Rhodes’ appointment should give some assurance to lawmakers that the governor’s plan is solid, at least that’s Snyder’s hope.

Lawmakers, though, are hung up on the creation of a Detroit Education Commission that would oversee the opening and closing of traditional public and charter schools.

Snyder had initially wanted to appoint the members jointly with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, but the mayor and local education advocates want Duggan to make the appointees.

Charter school operators worry they’ll be given short shrift by a commission named solely by the mayor. In addition, a bill in the House would maintain state oversight for another eight years, which Detroiters ardently oppose.