Editorial: Snyder’s DPS fix faces several tests
Gov. Rick Snyder’s latest iteration of a plan to fix Detroit schools calls for sweeping legislative changes, and he’s going to have to get buy-in from state leaders and the public to finance the $715 million projected cost over 10 years. That’s a tall order.
Snyder’s new timeline targets passage of a bill package by the end of the year and implementation beginning in June 2016. He has a lot of work to do before then.
Just as in April, when Snyder unveiled his plan, this proposal still adds complex layers of bureaucracy that will require intense management and cooperation with Mayor Mike Duggan to work. Duggan has been at odds with the governor over who would ultimately manage the reformed district.
Snyder’s plan revolves around finances and academics. On the financial side, the governor wants to split Detroit Public Schools into two entities. The legacy entity would serve only to pay down the district’s debt by directing the 18-mill non-homestead property tax the district collects to past operating debts and long-term liabilities. The state, in turn, would have to make up the loss in local funding to the new district, about $70 million a year according to conservative estimates from Snyder.
Snyder’s proposal is an innovative approach to allowing academic reforms to proceed without being weighed down by the district’s massive debt. But debt relief will come with a price.
The plan would cost the School Aid Fund about $50 per student statewide. Snyder says no cuts to other districts will be needed, but it’s hard to imagine some districts won’t see per-student funding decreases.
Snyder says it’s better to pay a modest price now than to carry an even larger burden years down the road. Snyder said the Detroit district’s operating debt is expected to exceed $515 million by next June.
No fan of the elected school board, Snyder wants that board to remain with the old district. Teachers — along with their contracts and pensions — and students would go to the new district, to be run by an appointed seven-member board. The governor would pick four members, and Mayor Mike Duggan the rest.
This new board would transition slowly to an elected board starting in 2017, when two members would be up for election. That, too, is necessary; Detroiters are right to object to being the only community in the state not allowed to elect its school board.
Snyder is also asking for a Detroit Education Commission, another appointed board that would hire chief education officer to head the entire school landscape in Detroit, including charter schools and schools within the Education Achievement Authority. This five-member commission would be comprised of Detroit citizens, with the majority appointed by the governor.
The education officer would have the complex job of applying a set standard of performance metrics to all schools, with the idea of eventually closing the worst-performing schools and bidding them out to new operators.
Charter schools, currently accountable only to their authorizers, would have to accept a third party overseer with the power to shut them down, and that won’t be easy for them to swallow.
The governor is right to place an emphasis on fixing Detroit schools. But to see his plan put in place he must make a strong case for why such massive state intervention is necessary.