Former Detroit school board seeks to block funding plan

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Members of the Detroit Public Schools board of education announced Wednesday they have filed for an injunction against the governor and the Legislature to block a $617 million DPS bailout and restructuring package.

The injunction, filed Tuesday in the state Court of Claims, seeks to forestall legislation signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional.

The board believes the legislation will give the city’s schools unfair bond rates and unjustly split DPS into two districts — the old system to pay off hundreds of millions in debt, and a new, debt-free system to educate students.

Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said Wednesday that state officials are “confident” that the recent legislative package “meets all constitutional requirements.”

The lawsuit is the board’s second in the past few months. In April, it filed a class-action suit against the state on similar grounds.

Last week, the board rejected a $150 million state loan offer and came up with its own proposals.

On July 1, the new debt-free Detroit school district began its fiscal year, and received all students from the old district, stripping the current board of its responsibilities. Elections for a new school board will be held in November.

The $150 million is part of the $617 million rescue package Snyder signed recently that would eliminate $467 million in remaining debt for Michigan’s largest school district.

Disputed Detroit school board President LaMar Lemmons said the money used to split the district should instead be put into classrooms to reduce class sizes and provide services.

“Although we did appreciate the $150 million quote ‘loan,’ that the state was presenting to us at a reasonable rate — the municipal market rate of 1.5 to 2.5 percent — it was the extension of the bond that had a cap up to 18 percent, to which we said, ‘you’re serious?’ ” Lemmons said. “We vehemently objected to that as well as the unnecessary, costly bifurcation of the district.”

Lemmons is also asking the state to perform a forensic audit on the district. Lemmons said the state should take responsibility for the district’s finances because state-appointed emergency managers have run the district since 2009, largely sidelining the school board and accumulating much of DPS’ debt.

“We just want to see the books, we’ve asked repeatedly for seven years. We have not been able to get any clarity as to the state of the finances and remember the primary reason the state is here is to rectify the financial emergency,” Lemmons said.

According to the board’s attorney, Thomas Bleakley, the district was financially solvent in 1999 when the state began its intervention in the Detroit school system.

Bleakley is representing the board members for free, but said that the legal process will still be a costly one.

Another point of contention for school board members and Bleakley is the provision in the new law allowing DPS to bring uncertified individuals into the classroom as teachers.

“Detroit Public Schools, will be the only public school district of 549 in the state to be required or permitted to hire uncertified persons to teach children of the school district,” Bleakley said.

Adler said the provision would allow the locally elected school board to allow a professional to share knowledge with students without having to go through a full teacher’s certification program.

“For example, there may be a professional in a certain field who has the knowledge and expertise to teach students a skilled trade but are not certified as teachers,” he said.

Detroit school board member Elena Herrada, accused Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes of promoting segregation.

“Everyone who was involved in this project of resegregation, and I’m speaking here to Judge Rhodes, who was actually reversing years, and years, and years of struggle by endorsing segregated and inferior schools,” Herrada said.

Rhodes spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson declined to respond to Herrada’s claims.

Adler rejected the board’s claims of malicious intent.

“The focus needs to stay on outcomes for the children of Detroit – and all of Michigan – rather than any personal or political motivations of adults,” Adler said.

The $617 million bailout for DPS is being paid out of the state’s settlement fund with tobacco companies. Any additional financing costs will be shouldered by state taxpayers — not Detroit schools — through the state’s general funding, according to the House Fiscal Agency.

excarter@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @evancarter_94