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Jacques: Mayor, business absent in DPS race

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

The general election is less than a month away, but it’s awfully quiet in Detroit regarding the upcoming school board election. Especially when it comes to vocal support from business and city leaders.

After the Legislature passed its $617 million bailout of the district and created the new Detroit Public Schools Community District, plenty of city stakeholders paid lip service to the importance of the November school board election.

So where is the support now? It’s hard to find, to the chagrin of those in Lansing who supported the state’s financial investment.

Much is at stake in this election, as it’s the first time since 2009 the school board will have full control of academics and finances — with some oversight from the city’s Financial Review Commission. Right away, the board will choose a superintendent, among other important decisions.

With more than 60 names on the ballot, however, it is not a sure thing that seven high-quality candidates will end up on the board.

That’s a lot of names to scroll through, and they aren’t even in alphabetical order. That means residents will have to go into the voting booth armed with the names of their choices. If they don’t, they are more likely to skip that part of the ballot — or vote for any name that seems familiar.

The new board positions are all at large, not by district as they had been, which could add to the challenge.

“Name recognition is huge,” says Penny Bailer, one of the candidates running for board. “Many voters just look for the people they recognize.”

And with nearly all of the current 11 school board members running again, their names could stand out. The debt-free district deserves a freshly minted school board that’s dedicated to getting the future right for students.

Given the importance of name familiarity, Bailer, former executive director of City Year Detroit and the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council, is running with a slate of three other candidates. They call themselves the A+ Team.

Several other cohorts of candidates are running as well.

The hefty competition calls for the active backing of the business community. And it would help if Mayor Mike Duggan got involved, too.

Bailer says the mayor has privately offered his support, but he’s not done anything publicly to solicit support for her and the A+ slate or any other candidates. And he doesn’t have plans to do so.

Duggan is “not going to be actively involved in the school board race,” according to Alexis Wiley, his chief of staff.

The mayor obviously has plenty going on running the city, but he knows how important schools are to the continued comeback of Detroit. He spent a lot of time in Lansing prior to the bailout lobbying for a Detroit Education Commission that he wanted to run. That commission would have had broad influence over all city schools, including charters.

The Legislature decided to leave that out, and the mayor has been less interested since.

In May, Duggan told me he was concerned the state bailout would be for nothing without commission oversight. He also emphasized the value the city’s schools hold, and the school board’s integral role in their success or failure.

The mayor’s support could help. And he should get involved.

Business leaders should take more of an interest as well. The Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the only business groups to get involved and make endorsements in the race.

“It’s important that we play a role in this election,” says Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the chamber.

He says he anticipated a more robust campaign among business leaders. But in addition to the school contest, there are competing interests on the ballot, including a regional transit millage and two community benefits proposals.

The chamber is backing Bailer, the Rev. Kevin Turman, Mary Kovari, Sonya Mays, Leslie Andrews, Misha Stallworth and Iris Taylor.

“We think we got a broad cross-section of experience,” says Williams. “These are people who will hear our case.”


Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques