Finley: Get out of DPS quickly and cleanly

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

All lawmakers should be worrying about in terms of the Detroit Public Schools is how to extricate the state from this mess.

The district can’t be saved. No amount of oversight from Lansing will keep it on financial track or improve its academic performance. The state needs to admit defeat and get out of DPS as quickly as it can.

This week, more than 40,000 Detroit children were shut out of their classrooms while their teachers engaged in an illegal strike. The Legislature should read from that destructive and disruptive action that the obstacles to fixing DPS are much larger than any check it could write.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter seems to get it, saying in a radio interview with WJR that the entire DPS staff should be fired and replaced. He’s right. But it won’t happen. If history holds, the teachers won’t even be penalized for their wildcat strike.

So after six years of failed emergency management by the state, the only reasonable option left for Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers is to buy their way out of Detroit schools.

Lawmakers are currently debating a $700 million bailout that would pay off the district’s debt and provide funds for a restructuring. It’s passed the Senate, but House Republicans are balking because they want to maintain oversight over DPS operations.

Give it up. Write the check. Get out.

There’s no way the state can avoid paying off DPS debt. Much of it was compiled during the emergency management period.

But trying to wrangle continued control of DPS in exchange for the money is a fool’s game. If five different emergency managers haven’t been able to turn around the district, another state-appointed committee won’t, either.

DPS is a rotten enterprise that defies reform. Even under the watch of the state’s EM, more than a dozen DPS principals got caught up in a bribery scheme and are now facing federal chargers.

So the state should orchestrate a clean exit. Let the citizens of Detroit elect a school board this fall, return management of the district to that board, and see if the district can balance the books and provide a decent education with the extra $1,200 per pupil freed up by the debt payoff.

All the state should do in leaving is put two iron-clad conditions in place.

The first is a strict limit on future borrowing. The school board should not be allowed to begin accumulating more debt the state will be stuck with in the future.

The second is to preserve unfettered school choice.

The bail-out should give the district the funds it needs to run competitive schools, if it can muster the competency. If it can’t, families should not be trapped in inadequate schools by laws that cap their choices.

DPS advocates are desperate for legislation that will let a mayor-appointed commission decide which charter and traditional schools open and close. Charter operators are absolutely right that their schools will get the short end of that stick.

And don’t buy the oft-repeated canard that Detroit charters are no better than DPS schools. Half the city’s families choose charter schools for a reason: They work for their children.

Those charter students were in their seats this week instead of at home during the teacher strike, and their principals were in their offices instead of courtrooms.

Nolan Finley’s “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.