Good luck to new emergency manager at DPS

The Detroit News

As expected, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed a new emergency manager to Detroit Public Schools Tuesday — two days before the Detroit Board of Education would have had the opportunity to vote out current manager Jack Martin. This isn’t an ideal solution, but it gives the state more time to work out a longer-term approach for Detroit schools.

Even though the governor has admitted the emergency manager model hasn’t worked well for DPS, Snyder still thought this was a better alternative than having the school board assert more power.

Board members were preparing to do just that on Thursday. Michigan’s latest emergency manager law gives locally elected officials more say in the state oversight process. Public Act 436 states that emergency managers can serve only 18-month terms before the school board or city council can vote that individual out and choose another form of partnership with the state, such as a consent agreement.

But Snyder pre-empted that vote by appointing Darnell Earley before Martin’s term officially ended. The language of the law is vague enough to allow this, although the school board will certainly challenge that interpretation.

Earley, the emergency manager of Flint, will be the fourth state-appointed manager for DPS since 2009. And while his predecessors have made some steps toward better financial stability, the district remains saddled with a $170 million deficit.

Earley’s appointment isn’t surprising, as emergency managers occasionally get moved around when new positions open.

He’ll face an uphill battle, trying to do a job three other competent managers could not accomplish.

Given the failure of past emergency managers to get the school district out of debt, and Snyder’s acknowledgment that this system hasn’t proven effective for DPS, Earley is likely just filling the position until another plan comes along.

That plan is still in the works. Snyder has said he wants the Detroit community to play a much more integral role. Last month, a coalition of more than 30 community organizations, including the Skillman Foundation, formed with the sole purpose of making recommendations to improve Detroit’s schools.

Snyder says he is waiting to see what the coalition puts together, and has made Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana schools chief who helped turn around New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, his liaison with the group. Pastorek has spent the past few months taking stock of Michigan’s education system, focusing on Detroit. Snyder’s team says Pastorek should also have recommendations of his own in the near future.

Since the current governance model of an elected school board hasn’t worked well, some education reform groups in the community have suggested moving control of Detroit schools to the mayor’s office. But at this point, Mayor Mike Duggan has said he won’t take on that challenge.

Other plans have advocated at least placing more oversight of enrollment and transportation for DPS and charter schools under the mayor. But those proposals, such as one from Excellent Schools Detroit, remain up in the air.

It’s understandable why the state appointed Earley, but clearly the emergency manager system hasn’t stemmed the problems that plague DPS. It’s going to take a much more far-reaching approach. The sooner such a plan can come together, the better for Detroit’s students.