Rhodes backs DPS plan, but others in Detroit cry foul

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager expressed support Thursday for the $617 million rescue package waiting to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, but other district stakeholders and community leaders criticized the GOP-approved package as flawed and inadequate.

“The Michigan Legislature has moved forward with the creation of a new, debt-free school district that will be governed by a school board that the people of Detroit will elect,” Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes said in a statement released by DPS. “Our leadership, staff, educators, parents, community stakeholders, and the newly elected school board will continue the work necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of the new district. We are especially excited about the opportunity to provide more resources for the education of our children, and about offering new academic programs for our students.”

In his statement, Rhodes referenced the fact that the final legislation includes less than the $715 million that was part of a Senate-approved bill.

The emergency manager said DPS looks forward to working with the governor’s office, the state superintendent of schools and the Michigan Department of Education to identify the remainder of the “critical resources necessary to educate our students.”

An analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency said the plan might require an additional $88 million, and others with ties to DPS were more direct Thursday in saying the legislation falls short of meeting the needs of a new Detroit district.

Tonya Allen, chief executive officer of the Skillman Foundation, said the $617 million is not enough for the long term. Allen is one of the co-chairs of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, which recommended a larger rescue package with several elements that were left out of the final legislation.

The legislation on its way to Snyder “provides short-term comfort for a district that has long-term financial and structural challenges, such as the costs of an outsized infrastructure and a declining student population, and a disproportionately larger share of special education students that costs the district nearly $40 million annually and is not reimbursable,” she said in a statement.

The legislation calls for the election of a new Detroit school board in November, with the panel taking control of academics in a new, debt-free district in January. But Herman Davis, president of the current school board, was even more critical of the rescue plan and its funding than Allen.

He said the board, largely sidelined from authority over DPS since the state took control seven years ago, is filing an injunction to halt the legislation.

Asked if the $617 million is enough, he replied, “No, not nearly enough.”

He also likened the fact that Detroit legislators were locked out of the discussion over the final legislation, passed solely with Republican votes, to apartheid.

“That tells you what it is right there,” he said. “What they’re doing is behind closed doors.They’re doing things they know are a travesty. They are not providing an equal education to the students in Detroit.”

In a statement, Davis also blasted a provision in the legislation that would allow the new Detroit district to hire uncertified teachers.

“Detroit is the first city in Michigan to have its teachers’ credentials reduced, eliminating the need for certification, despite the fact that 88 percent of our students are reading below grade level,” he said.

The union that represents the district’s teachers also criticized the final bill, while saying it was an improvement over a $500 million package initially passed by the House.

“The Senate abandoned its own Detroit education bill, which was crafted with bipartisan support and backed by business, civic and religious leaders, parents, education organizations, labor and the mayor of Detroit,” said a joint statement from David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan and Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. “Instead, the Senate voted for the House plan, which does not meet the needs of students and attacks educators.

“While the House plan voted on Wednesday night is inadequate, it is an improvement over the prior House plan that in that it provides more resources and has DPS employees keeping their jobs and union representation and returns DPS to an elected school board in January.”

On the other hand, the teachers union said, the final bill dropped a citywide education commission that would have had the power to close poorly performing Detroit schools, including charters, and gave that power, with much more limited power, to the state School Reform Office.

Davis said a voluntary commission “won’t do anything for us.”

“Parents still will not have a better education for their children and all of their efforts have been to push kids out of Detroit schools, anyway,” he said.

Allen agreed. She said the bill’s mechanism for controlling school openings and closings is “not strong enough or representative of all of the districts and authorizers operating in Detroit to constitute a concerted effort to improve education or stem the tide of students leaving the city to attend school.”

SLewis@detroitnews.com

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