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Rhodes to talk DPS plan at private, public meetings

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes plans to meet with both state officials and local residents this week to discuss the $617 million rescue plan Gov. Rick Snyder plans to sign into law.

“Key stakeholders” from the district, the governor’s office, the state Treasury and the Michigan Department of Education are expected to join Rhodes in Detroit on Wednesday for a day-long summit, according to DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski.

Rhodes wants to ensure everyone “is on the same page as it relates to knowledge” of the legislation, Zdrodowski said.

Attendees will work to develop a project management plan for implementing the bills, which will lead to the launch of a new Detroit Public Schools Community District, but they are not expected to make decisions on any “substantive issues” at the meeting, she said.

Separately, Democratic state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of Detroit announced a Thursday evening meeting at Renaissance High School where she, Rhodes and Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather will answer questions about the DPS legislation and discuss what parents can expect moving forward.

Zdrodowski confirmed both Rhodes and Meriweather will attend the joint meeting, which will also function as a public budget meeting for the district. It’s scheduled for 5-7 p.m. at 6565 Outer Drive.

The controversial DPS bailout passed the Republican-led Legislature this month without support from any Detroit legislators or other Democrats. It includes $467 million in debt relief and $150 million in start-up costs for creation of a new debt-free school district, to be financed via $72 million a year in state tobacco settlement revenue.

State Board of Education President John Austin plans to attend the Wednesday stakeholders meeting, which he expects will focus on ways to ways to “make this work as best we can” for Detroit children despite reservations that he and others may have with the legislation.

“I will be pressing for real attention to some of the bigger challenges that we continue to need to come to grips with,” said Austin, mentioning an ongoing debate over charter school proliferation and the growing percentage of special education students who attend the traditional public school district.

The legislation awaiting the governor’s signature does not include a proposed commission that would have controlled the placement of traditional and charter schools in the city, which Snyder and some state education officials had supported.

“The conversation isn’t going away,” said state Superintendent Brian Whiston, who is also expected to attend the Wednesday meeting. He suggested charter school proliferation is also causing challenges for other urban school districts like Saginaw, Benton Harbor and Pontiac.

“I think we have to work creatively to get more funding (for DPS) if we have to,” said Whiston, “and also to look at how we manage the opening and closing of schools — to do it in a way that provides parents’ choices, which is important, but also in a way that we manage those choices.”

The legislation would split the district in two, leaving the old entity to pay off debt through on existing millage while a new debt-free district receives its full state funding allowance to focus on education.

Rhodes is expected to serve as an official “transition manager” for the district. Under the legislation, the transition manager would run Detroit schools until new school board members take office in January following November elections.

Rhodes’ contract with the state expires at the end of September, and Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said there is no proposed change to the contract at this time.

Snyder appointed Rhodes to the emergency manager position in February. The retired bankruptcy judge earns $18,750 a month under the terms of his current deal.

joosting@detroitnews.com