Michigan Senate nears vote on DPS aid

Detroit News staff and wire reports
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Lansing — Leaders of the Michigan Senate are hoping to hold a vote Tuesday on a $700 million-plus plan to divide Detroit’s ailing school district in two and launch a new district with better schools.

A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said an agreement has been reached among negotiators. But now it depends on whether enough senators will support the legislation in a floor vote targeted for Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Snyder first called for a rescue package to restructure Detroit Public Schools nearly a year ago, and the House last week approved a $48.7 million stopgap measure to pay teachers the rest of this academic year. The district, the state’s largest, had warned of payless paydays by April 8. Snyder and the district’s new emergency manager Steven Rhodes had asked for $50 million, but the House appropriated $48.7 million because that is the remainder of the balance this fiscal year in the state's tobacco company settlement fund.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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The cash-strapped school system has not regularly been paying its vendors and employee pensions for at least two years.

Lawmakers are rushing to bailout DPS because they're scheduled to begin a two-week spring break Friday.

Snyder’s 10-year plan would pay off $515 million in DPS debt and provide $200 million in start-up costs for the creation of a new, debt-free Detroit school system. His plan also calls for a transition back to control of the Detroit school district by an elected board.

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The Senate plan would allocate roughly $500 million to address debt and $200 million to start a new district. The House is considering a different version of the rescue plan. Under the House legislation, school board members would initially be appointed and the board would not be fully elected by Detroiters for eight years.

The Senate plan calls for elections in November.

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Rhodes, the fifth state-appointed district leader since DPS was placed under state control in March 2009, has said he doesn’t have a preference for either plan.

"I can't and don't choose sides," he said. "I'm only hoping for a successful compromise. ....”

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