Skillman leader: Don’t expect foundation rescue of DPS

Detroit News staff

One of the leaders of a coalition wanting to overhaul Detroit Public Schools said Wednesday that lawmakers should not expect the philanthropic community to pitch into a fund to bail out the debt-ridden district.

Gov. Rick Snyder is asking the Legislature to commit up to $715 million over 10 years toward paying off $515 million in accumulated DPS debt and giving a new debt-free Detroit school district $200 million for start-up costs.

There’s been some hope among lawmakers and public school leaders that foundations will ride to the rescue of Detroit’s schools much in the same way they did for retired city workers in Detroit’s bankruptcy “grand bargain” to shield the city’s art collection and soften the blow of cuts to pensions.

“We will not make investments to pay bad debt that was mismanaged ... while (DPS) was under the state’s watch,” said Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. “That just isn’t a good use of our dollars.”

Allen is one of the co-chairs of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren. She said foundations are already spending $20 million annually on initiatives to improve learning in the city’s classrooms of DPS, charter schools and the state-created Education Achievement Authority.

Foundations project to spend $350 million during the next decade into Detroit’s public education system through a variety of initiatives, Allen said.

Members of the schools coalition have been arguing for months that the state is on the hook for DPS debt — a point with which Snyder agrees.

With the DPS debt and governance issue still looming, Allen and other leaders of the coalition of Detroit business, civic and educational leaders are stepping up their lobbying efforts to get the state Senate to introduce and pass bills overhauling management of DPS and city’s fractured network of charter schools before year’s end.

Former Rep. Thomas Stallworth III, who was instrumental in getting Detroit Democrats to vote for the “grand bargain” for Detroit’s bankruptcy exit in 2014, is working as a paid consultant for the coalition.

On Wednesday, Stallworth trotted out a new talking point.

“This isn’t a bailout for Detroit,” Stallworth said. “This is a bailout for the state.”

Snyder issues rare veto vow

Gov. Rick Snyder rarely takes a public stand for or against legislation — especially before a bill passes either chamber of the Legislature.

So it was surprising when Snyder vowed last week to veto a Senate bill allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons in schools, sports stadiums, churches, bars, day cares, casinos and colleges.

In December 2012, Snyder vetoed similar legislation in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.

“I vetoed it once, I’d veto it again,” Snyder told Lansing radio host Steve Gruber.

Senate Bill 442, sponsored by Sen. Mike Green, would eliminate the loophole in the state’s “gun free zones” law that allows individuals with a concealed pistol license to openly carry a gun in a school, stadium or bar.

Green, R-Mayville, said his bill seeks to eliminate incidents in which individuals with such licenses walk into a school with a gun holstered at their waist in plain view.

“I’m just trying to be conciliatory to the superintendents who have called me say: Hey, when somebody comes in with a loaded gun on their sides, it causes all kind of problems with us – we don’t know if they’re legal or not legal,” Green told The Detroit News.

Snyder said he wants to let locally elected school board members decide whether to allow concealed weapons inside their schools. The gun-free zone debate has been especially stirring in Snyder’s hometown of Ann Arbor, where there have been a couple of confrontations between licensed gun owners and public institutions.

“You could find parts of the state, clearly locally, not wanting to have weapons in a school at all, and you might find other communities saying they think it's a good thing,” Snyder told Gruber. “But shouldn’t they be able to make that decision themselves?”

Green said Snyder’s proposal would cause confusion.

“How on earth do you tell people that they’re a gun-free zone unless you put a sign out there?” Green asked. “A sign that says this school is gun-free. All that does is invite people to come in and create mass murder.”

Prevailing wage ad battle

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running drive-time radio ads this week linking U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop’s votes on prevailing wage bill provisions with campaign donations from the powerful DeVos family of Grand Rapids.

The ads, on the air in Metro Detroit and Lansing, charge that the Rochester Republican “wants to gut prevailing wage laws that make sure construction workers get paid a fair local wage.”

Prevailing wage laws, under attack here and among Republicans in Congress, essentially require union-scale wages on publicly financed construction projects such as school buildings and highway repairs. Critics argue that such laws inflate costs for taxpayers and result in less bang for the buck on projects.

The ads, part of a 2016 election battle between incumbent Bishop and Democratic challenger Melissa Gilbert of Livingston County in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, cite Bishop votes against prevailing wage enforcement on two bills involving Veterans Administration construction projects.

It’s important to Michigan veterans because they hold “a higher percentage of construction jobs,” according to the radio text, which also mentions “billionaires” who are the chief financial backers of petitions to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law.

“Michigan vets want politicians to stand up for their wages, but Mike Bishop would rather take the same side as the billionaires backing the anti-prevailing wage petition – and his campaign,” it says.

The latter is a reference to the DeVos family, whose members have donated more than $23,000 to Bishop’s congressional campaign fund.

The Bishop campaign said the ad buy, while modest in scope, falsely implies the congressman is unfriendly toward veterans. The congressman has supported bills bolstering efforts to prevent suicides among veterans, transition them to civilian life and make it easier for them to access mental health care, said spokesman Stu Sandler.

“Democrats are ignoring the fact that their candidate owes $470,000 in back taxes to the federal government,” Sandler said. “This ad relies on false information and actually Mike Bishop is supporting legislation to help our veterans.”

Gilbert, a TV and movie actress, has been under attack from Republicans over her tax troubles.

Contributors: Chad Livengood and Gary Heinlein