Mich. Legislature OKs emergency aid for DPS

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A plan to provide Detroit Public Schools with $48.7 million in emergency funding is heading to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder after the Republican-led Legislature on Thursday gave it final approval.

The supplemental spending bill is designed to help the district say solvent through the end of the school year while legislators continue to debate long-term rescue options, including a $715 million Senate bailout package backed by Snyder, a Republican, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat.

The governor welcomed the Legislature’s action.

“I appreciate the Legislature working quickly this week to approve funding that will keep the students who attend Detroit Public Schools in their classrooms through the end of the school year,” Snyder said in a statement. “The kids of Detroit need to be in school and learning if they are to have a brighter future, and the bipartisan support for this funding shows how important the issue is to everyone.”

The smaller supplemental spending bill won bipartisan support Thursday after House and Senate leaders reached a compromise on companion state oversight legislation, which was also approved by both chambers.

Under the revised plan, the Financial Review Commission that currently oversees city government that emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2014 would extend to the school district — but only in the event a state-appointed emergency manager is no longer in place.

An earlier House version would have put “financial oversight over top of the emergency manager,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. “Two levels of oversight are probably not necessary.”

Retired bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes is scheduled to serve as Detroit schools emergency manager through June 1. State receivership could end if the Legislature approves a longer-term rescue package by then.

Rhodes told legislators this month that Detroit schools may run out of money to pay teachers by April 8, although they would likely receive checks into May because of a pay period delay.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a larger $715 million DPS rescue plan, but the bipartisan bills face an uncertain future in the more conservative House, which is developing its own plan.

“It’s a good first start to get the discussion going,” Meekhof said Thursday. “The House has probably some good ideas they want to work on, and we’re eager to see their ideas as well.”

Those discussions will wait until at least April. The Legislature takes a two-week break after Thursday’s session.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said Thursday he remains concerned by some aspects of the long-term Senate plan, including the proposed Detroit Education Commission, which could prevent new charter operators from opening schools in the city.

“I would classify that as my greatest topic of concern right now,” he said of the proposed commission.

Cotter told reporters the Senate proposal to return day-to-day control of the district to an elected school board in August may also “cause some reservations” in the House.

“We’ve got to be comfortable that a return to a locally elected board can happen and can happen smoothly,” he said.

Snyder made it clear he hopes a bipartisan deal can be reached on long-term reforms for the financially beleaguered district of more than 47,000 students.

“This supplemental funding doesn’t change the fact that a long-term legislative solution is still needed to bring about fiscal stability and responsibility as well as improved academic outcomes within DPS,” he said. “I’m confident the Legislature will continue its bipartisan focus on helping Detroit students succeed and we will get there soon.”

The Senate approved the emergency funding in a 29-7 vote, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans. The bill passed the House 104-4, with all opposition votes again coming from the GOP.

The modified oversight plan passed the Senate 26-10 with opposition from four Democrats and six Republicans.

The House approved the measure in a 95-13 vote, with all opposition coming from Democrats. The opponents included Detroit Reps. Wendell Byrd, Rose Mary Robinson, LaTanya Garrett, Fred Durhal III and Brian Banks.

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