Panel OKs budget for new Detroit school district

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
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A state-required committee approved Thursday the proposed budget of the new, debt-free Detroit school district for the fiscal year that begins Friday, but not a portion of proposed professional development travel.

The Financial Review Commission, created to oversee Detroit’s emergence from the country’s largest municipal bankruptcy in 2014, gave its blessing to the $654 million budget proposed for the new Detroit Public Schools Community District by Transition Manager Steven Rhodes, the state-appointed emergency manager.

The financial blueprint absorbs some of the $150 million in state start-up funding to improve academic programs and better maintain buildings as part of a $617 million bailout package that Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a week and a half ago.

Another $467 million will be used to retire the debt of the former Detroit Public Schools district.

“I would like to thank the commissioners for working with the district to approve the budget in a timely manner under extenuating circumstances,” Rhodes said in a statement.

“The FRC worked expeditiously to approve the budget prior to the first day of the fiscal year for the new Detroit Public Schools Community District. It is a balanced budget based on conservative and realistic assumptions and it reflects enough revenue to pay reasonable expenses.”

Rhodes, the former federal judge who oversaw Detroit’s bankruptcy case, said the budget is “a significant milestone” that will help “create a sustainable new school district.”

He said the state bailout legislation, which the Legislature narrowly approved with only Republican votes, assures the district “will be governed by an elected school board” and will have a long-term academic plan.

But the nine-member Financial Review Committee did not rubber stamp Rhodes’ budget. It denied a professional development travel funding proposal for $4,800 in non-grant money. It otherwise approved travel plans that were financed with grant and scholarship dollars, district spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said.

The district said it is requesting the committee reconsider the nongrant travel plan after it provides additional information to the commissioners.

“Our focus moving forward will be to support academic innovation, improve student safety and facilities,” Rhodes said. “We have many challenges to overcome as we transition the district from its current governance structure to an elected board. We are on an important mission to ensure the citizens of Detroit have a school system they can trust and in which they can take pride.”

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