Detroit school deficit affects reform
Two leaders in a coalition of community and business leaders said Friday the size and scope of Detroit Public Schools' deficit looms large over their task of giving Gov. Rick Snyder recommendations for improving Detroit's system of schools.
The Republican governor last week sent DPS its fourth emergency manager in six years — one month after the 47,451-student district said it is saddled with a nearly $170 million deficit that could take nine years to wipe out.
"It does not appear from my impression that the district can cut its way out of this challenge, that we're going to have to really look toward creative solutions," said Tonya Allen, president of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation.
Allen is one of the five community leaders co-chairing the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren. Its 36-member steering committee explores ways to better manage Detroit's patchwork of public schools run by DPS, charter schools and the state-created Education Achievement Authority.
Snyder has acknowledged emergency management is not working at existing Detroit public schools and is seeking new ideas for delivering public education within the boundaries Michigan's largest city.
Coalition co-chairman John Rakolta Jr., CEO of the Walbridge construction company, said he's unsure how the group's steering committee will navigate the district's operating deficit when it makes recommendations to Snyder in March.
"That is one of the key questions that must be addressed," Rakolta said in a conference call he and Allen held Friday with reporters.
Created last month, the coalition of Detroit education, civic, business, religious, labor and community leaders gave itself a March 31 deadline to develop recommendations for improving education in Detroit.
Rakolta and Allen both said it's too early in the coalition's work to draw conclusions about what they may recommend to the governor.
"There's a lot of water that has to run under this bridge," Allen said.
Snyder said earlier this week he wants recommendations from the coalition that can be formulated into legislation this spring.
"We know that schedule is ambitious, and it will be difficult to achieve," Allen said. "(But) we're not starting from zero. We have lots of people in our community, across our state, across the country (who) have been thinking about Detroit's conditions."
Coalition members also are examining the financial condition of the city's charter schools and the EAA.
The 3-year-old EAA, which Snyder helped create to operate 15 persistently failing Detroit schools, also has been dogged by budgetary problems.
State officials are still reviewing the deficit reduction plan the Detroit district submitted last month, said Martin Ackley, public and government affairs director for the Michigan Department of Education.