Snyder says Detroit schools still need EM, names Earley

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — With speculation swirling about the future of Detroit Public Schools, Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday announced the district’s fourth emergency manager in six years.

In naming Darnell Earley to lead the state’s largest school district, Snyder said appointing another emergency manager at DPS was not his preferred option but remains necessary.

Earley, 63, replaces Jack Martin, who has led the district since July 2013.

“Progress has been made, but there’s still more to be done,” Snyder said during a news conference with Earley and Martin at Burton International Academy. “That’s what this transition is about. We need to keep working together.”

Snyder acknowledged the district, which has a deficit of more than $160 million and falling enrollment, needs work on its finances and academics. “It’s important to continue having an emergency manager ... we will stay on this path,” he said.

Earley, who said his first day on the job was Tuesday, declared he’s ready to reform the district. He has been the emergency manager of Flint since Oct. 1, 2013, and was city manager of Saginaw for eight years.

“Academic achievement must be the result for all of us,” he said. “We also need to push the needle toward economic solvency, which begins with a pattern of reform, because change is integral to showing results.”

Earley’s appointment drew fire from union and school board officials.

“We can have emergency managers from now until the end of time, but if we don’t get to the structural causes, nothing will change,” said Keith Johnson, Detroit Federation of Teachers president.

Johnson also took issue with Earley’s lack of education experience. “He’s not an educator, so when he talks about looking at reforms, how do you know what reform looks like when you’re not an educator — though I have nothing against him,” he said.

Former school board president LaMar Lemmons, now chairman of government relations for the board, said the appointment flouts the intent of Public Act 436, the state law authorizing emergency managers. “The governor used a loophole, which flies in the face of what he sold the public as a one-time, 18-month fix,” he said. “But it’s really an attempt to dismantle the district in favor of charter schools.”

Martin said Snyder chose the right person to replace him. “We’ve been kicking the can down the road for 20 years and there’s not much more that can be done,” he said. “I think that’s what the governor is looking at.”

Earley’s appointment comes amid debate over the district’s future. Last month, 31 education, business and community leaders announced a study to develop recommendations to improve Detroit’s schools.

In November, Excellent Schools Detroit commissioned a report urging that Mayor Mike Duggan lead a common enrollment system for all city public and charter schools. In August, the group proposed giving him oversight of all city public schools.

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