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Jacques: DPS emergency manager needs to step aside

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Darnell Earley has to go.

The emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools is now irrevocably tainted by his time in that same role for the city of Flint. Whether he deserves blame is still in question, but Earley was the state-appointed manager who oversaw Flint’s transition from the Detroit water system to Flint River water.

The switch in the spring of 2014 has led to disastrous consequences, including children now suffering from lead poisoning from the drinking water.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s reputation has suffered for not acting quickly enough to ameliorate the situation in Flint and to demand accountability after.

The governor has a major perception problem having Earley at the helm of the financially failing DPS. And reports this week of school buildings that are unsafe and unclean for children only make it more obvious that this emergency manager is no longer a good fit.

You can’t have the same man associated with the poisoning of Flint’s children now responsible for the safety of nearly 50,000 Detroit kids.

Snyder hates politics. And he doesn’t like to stray from his relentlessly positive mantra. The governor is also fiercely loyal to those who work with him, and avoids doling out blame.

But if the governor continues to stand by Earley, he can kiss goodbye his chances of getting restructuring legislation for Detroit schools passed. Snyder’s legislative proposal is a high priority for him. And DPS desperately needs the financial aid that would accompany the plans.

Snyder has already admitted the emergency manager framework hasn’t worked for Detroit schools. Earley is the fourth appointee in a string of managers who have failed to solve the fiscal and academic shortfalls in the district, starting with the appointment of Robert Bobb by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2009.

The bills Snyder supports would end emergency management and would place control of schools in the hands of an appointed board that would transition to an elected board.

Part of the legislation was introduced Thursday by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart. Hansen, vice-chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee and chair of the appropriations subcommittee on K-12 funding, has worked with the governor for months getting the bills ready.

Snyder envisions splitting DPS into two entities to separate more than $500 million in debt from a new district that could direct its funds to educating students rather than covering past borrowing.

The governor’s office is hoping that legislation would take effect by the end of June — the same time Earley’s appointment is up.

But Earley’s departure needs to happen now, even though Snyder thinks he did a good job getting Flint out of debt and that he’s tried to do his best for Detroit schools.

Earley has also defended his record in Flint. In a guest column for this paper in October, he wrote: “Contrary to reports in the media and rhetoric being espoused by individuals, the decision was made at the local level, by local civic leaders.” Earley says the decision to move to Flint River water was approved by the mayor and City Council months before he was appointed emergency manager in the fall of 2013.

That may be accurate. But Earley was in charge when the actual implementation took place. And the buck stops with him and Snyder.

What’s happened in Flint is tragic, and the outrage around the state and country is still building. That makes Earley toxic.

Snyder may not like it, but he has to get tough and do the politically expedient thing. If he wants his plans for Detroit Public Schools to come to fruition, Earley needs to step aside.