Jacques: GOP must give Snyder a win on DPS plan

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder is in the middle of a political storm that’s hourly growing in intensity. The mishandling of the Flint water crisis by all levels of government has fallen squarely on him.

It’s been a rough stretch.

While the governor is working on a fix, he’s still got other fires to put out. Chief among them is a legislative package that would allocate the funds Detroit Public Schools requires to avoid insolvency.

Lawmakers should give him that win — for his sake and their own. A weakened governor will do them no good in this fall’s tough Legislative elections.

For almost a year, Snyder has tried to get the Legislature on board with his proposal to send more than $700 million to the district, as well as implement new governance models that would apply to the school district and charter schools.

The governor’s education team has tried to rally lawmakers — to little avail. Both Republicans and Democrats have reasons for not liking the plan.

Yet finally last month, Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, introduced part of the package. And more bills are coming down the pipeline.

The package is vastly different from what Snyder originally had in mind. It’s a pared down version that should make the Democratic delegation, in addition to Detroit stakeholders, fairly happy. As the bills stand now the focus is on the infusion of cash, allowing for the creation of a new school district what would be separate from all the debt.

The bills also call for the return to an elected school board by the end of the year. In the interim, there would be an appointed board. Snyder had originally wanted a board appointed by himself and Mayor Mike Duggan that would transition much more slowly to an elected board.

The idea of a Detroit Education Commission that would have had control of opening and closing all city schools, including charters, has also been left out — for now. The charter school lobby pushed hard against it, although Duggan and Snyder both like the concept.

The governor has had to back away from some of the other policies and people he supported.

This week, Snyder accepted the resignation of DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who is leaving his post Feb. 29. Snyder had continued to defend Earley, despite growing calls for his head. Earley’s time as manager of Flint during the city’s switch to drawing water from the Flint River became a major distraction to his current work.

“He did a good job,” Snyder told me last month. “He’s doing a good job.”

In past weeks, though, the governor realized he’d have to show Earley the door, if he had any chance of getting his DPS legislation through.

Earley had become a liability, tainted both by the water situation in Flint and the poor condition of some DPS buildings.

Snyder will soon name a replacement manager to lead the district until the bills pass. The governor’s team has told GOP lawmakers that the individual he has in mind for this transition leader will be “very impressive.”

The plan is to have this interim leader appoint a temporary superintendent of academics until a permanent superintendent is chosen by the new school board.

Snyder also has had to give up on an experiment he’s defended the past five years. He was influential in the creation of the Education Achievement Authority in 2011, and the reform district has run 15 schools in Detroit for several years without reaping the turnaround results it promised.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof announced the end of the EAA, assuming the Legislature gets around to passing the DPS bills.

Snyder has compromised a lot on this legislation. And he’s signed some bills he wasn’t thrilled about to appease the Republican majority.

Now they should come together and do this for him — and the kids of Detroit.

Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.