Jacques: Gov says 'no thanks' to Duggan school plan

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island – —After not saying much about what should be done to fix Detroit's glaring school problems, Mayor Mike Duggan outlined an extensive plan Wednesday.

But Gov. Rick Snyder isn't buying it.

Duggan caught a lot of people off guard during his keynote speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference. He strongly criticized Snyder's vision for revamping Detroit schools last month, but the mayor has been quiet since then on the subject.

Duggan did give Snyder's team a heads up that he wanted to discuss his plan. And although Snyder appreciates Duggan offering his thoughts, the governor's not planning to deviate from his blueprint.

The mayor's plan charts a course between the governor's and the recommendations from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.

All three plans highlight the need for addressing Detroit Public Schools' nearly $500 million debt-load. And Duggan signed off on Snyder's idea to split the district into two entities — one that would pay down the debt by diverting local tax dollars and another to focus on educating students.

Where the plans diverge is in the area of governance.

Splitting the district would require a significant financial commitment from the state — at least $72 million a year for the next decade. Because of that, Snyder believes the state should have close oversight of how the new district is run. The governor has proposed creating a new school board to oversee the debt-free DPS district, and it would be composed of a majority of gubernatorial appointees. Duggan would appoint the rest.

Snyder also laid out plans for a Detroit Education Commission, which he and the mayor would jointly appoint, to oversee all schools in the city, including charter schools. The commission would have broad authority to open and close schools and hold them to strong performance standards.

While Duggan used some of the same terminology to outline his vision, the power structure would be vastly different. Duggan wants the bailout, but with much less state involvement. Duggan said a state-appointed financial review commission, much like the one he and City Council work under post-bankruptcy, would be fair. And that's another layer Snyder had proposed.

But instead of an appointed school board that would slowly transition back to an elected board, Duggan is suggesting a newly elected school board to govern DPS.

And when it comes to the Education Commission, it's obvious Duggan intends to run the show himself. That mirrors the coalition's vision for the commission.

Duggan didn't waste time trying to sell his plan, either. The next day, he was talking to key lawmakers at the conference, making the case for his recommendations.

Snyder is also on a mission to convince lawmakers his plan is the way to go. The governor had originally hoped to have legislation by June, but realistically that's not going to happen until fall. The Detroit schools fix is complicated and will require half a dozen bills.

Lawmakers aren't eager to jump on any Detroit schools plan, so both Duggan and Snyder have their work cut out for them.