Gov. Rick Snyder delays unveiling of Detroit public education overhaul plan
Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has put off announcing his plans for overhauling Detroit Public Schools until next week, even as the district's teachers union began publicizing Thursday the direction the governor may pursue.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Thursday the governor's team is still "gathering some last input and analysis" on a new Detroit school reform plan that won't be ready until late next week.
"He feels it's better to get it right than to be fast and premature," Wurfel told The Detroit News. "It is very complex. There are a lot of moving pieces."
Snyder said Tuesday he would detail his proposals for Detroit schools "later this week."
The governor's office is considering a wide range of approaches to tackling the debt of Detroit Public Schools and stabilizing the district's finances, as well as rationalizing the fractured education system in Detroit run by DPS, charter schools and the troubled, state-created Education Achievement Authority.
Detroit Federation of Teachers executive vice president Ivy Bailey sent an email to members Thursday saying the governor wants to create a new DPS district that would retain existing employees, labor union contracts and the district's participation in the statepension plan.
Bailey said Snyder's director of strategy, John Walsh, divulged the plan to David Hecker, one of the co-chairs of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.
Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, confirmed Bailey's account and told The Detroit News that the plan under consideration requires creating a new district to pay off old debts.
"The employees would move over to 'new DPS,' their union representation would move over, their collective agreements would move over and they would be part of the retirement system," Hecker said of the plan under consideration. "It's a mechanism for dealing with the debt. ... This is a possible approach that clearly the governor is thinking about."
Wurfel stressed the governor has not made a final decision as the "overall comprehensive plan and approach is still under review and analysis."
But Snyder may be facing resistance from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to the estimated $72 million price tag of splitting the district into two — one that educates children and could be turned into a system of charter schools and another that collects taxes and pays down debts with dedicated non-homestead property taxes.
Snyder's administration adopted a similar plan in 2012 to rescue the Highland Park and Muskegon Heights school districts from becoming financially insolvent. Both districts were taken over by private management companies at the behest of emergency managers.
"We want to make sure that DPS remains a public school system," said state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Detroit Democrat and former DPS teacher. "I certainly do not want to see our schools charterized. That's not something I would support."
Gay-Dagnogo said there are concerns that Detroit's property taxes from second homes and commercial and industrial properties may be too volatile a source to rely on for paying off $53 million in long-term operating debt and reducing the district's legacy pension debts.
Snyder met privately Tuesday with Hecker and the other four co-chairs of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren to discuss his proposals.
"There are a lot of ideas out there, but I'm going to save that for later in the week.," Snyder told reporters Tuesday at an automotive convention in Detroit. "Then I'll walk through the specifics and really be happy to discuss the coalition report versus what we put together."
Gay-Dagnogo said Thursday members of the Detroit caucus want to work with Snyder on finding common ground on the issue and that a delay in his announcement was justified.
"I think he's doing what a leader should do ... that ensures conversations are ongoing," she said.
Wurfel said the delay was not caused by the governor's four-day, three-state travel to promote Michigan and tout Detroit's emergence from bankruptcy.
Snyder is leaving the state Thursday evening to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition spring meeting in Las Vegas on Friday, before jetting to Washington, D.C., to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night.
He then is scheduled to fly to California for a speaking engagement at the Milken Institute's global conference in Santa Monica. Snyder is speaking on a panel about Detroit's recent bankruptcy with former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and investment banker Ken Buckfire.
Staff Writer Michael Wayland contributed.