Court: EMs control vacancies on school boards

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Detroit — The Michigan appeals court says emergency managers running school districts have the power to fill vacancies on a school board.

The court ruled Wednesday in the case of Jonathan Kinloch, who was appointed to the Detroit school board in July 2013 by then-emergency manager Roy Roberts.

Kinloch got the cold shoulder at his first meeting when other board members refused to acknowledge him. The board had picked its own new member.

But the appeals court says a school board can’t disregard the appointments of an emergency manager during a financial emergency. Kinloch is no longer on the board, and the Detroit district now is run by emergency manager Darnell Earley, who was appointed last week by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Earley is the district’s fourth emergency manager since the state took control of the district in March 2009.

Michelle Zdrodowski, a DPS spokeswoman, praised the ruling in a statement Tuesday.

“DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley appreciates the recent decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals affirming an emergency manager’s power to fill vacancies on a school board,” she said. “Mr. Kinloch was appointed in accordance with PA 436, and the Court’s ruling reaffirms the appropriateness and legality of this action.

Zdrodowski added: “It is EM Earley’s hope that we can get past these types of challenges to governance based on political issues, and focus our collective efforts on what’s best for the students, and what will make Detroit Public Schools an effective, high performing organization. He welcomes all input that helps the district to achieve these goals.”

Zdrodowski said Kinloch was appointed to fill a vacancy created when a board member resigned, and he left the board after Patricia Johnson Singleton was elected to the seat in November.

Herman Davis, president of the Detroit Board of Education, said the board plans to appeal the ruling.

“We’ll take it to the Michigan Supreme Court if we have to, but the governor obviously also has control of that,” Davis said.

Critics say the series of state-appointed leaders have failed to curb persistent deficits in DPS and reverse declining enrollment. The district ended the last fiscal year with a deficit of nearly $170 million.

“There’s also too much conflict of interest,” Davis said. “If the EM appoints a board member, he controls how they vote. Under PA436, the board must review any transaction over $50,000. The EM would control how that member votes on issues of $50,000 and above, and that is a total conflict of interest.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Shawn D. Lewis contributed.