Editorial: DPS deal offers hope to district

The Detroit News

After more than a year of intense negotiations, the state Legislature has agreed to send more than $600 million to Detroit Public Schools, saving it from going broke — and bankruptcy. And following seven years of direct state control, power will return to a newly elected school board in November. It is now up to Detroiters to ensure the district stays on a sound path.

Lawmakers took their wrangling over a deal to the last minute, finally getting enough Republican votes in the Senate late last Wednesday. DPS faced insolvency by the end of this month without action from Lansing. And Gov. Rick Snyder was prepared to take the district into bankruptcy, if lawmakers failed.

The legislative deal is not a perfect solution to what ails DPS, but it’s good enough to pay down past debt and allow for the district to start on a solid foundation free from former financial obligations.

Several key players helped see this legislation through, and they deserve credit for salvaging the state’s largest school district.

Chief among them is Snyder. The governor spearheaded the effort in April 2015, when he put together a comprehensive plan to improve the district’s finances and academics. While he hadn’t taken an active part in the discussions in recent months, he maintained his support for a legislative solution. His presence at the Capitol Wednesday evening made the difference in finding the last few votes needed.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, and House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, also get kudos — especially Hansen, who introduced the bills in his chamber and frequently visited Detroit schools.

John Walsh, Snyder’s director of strategy, was an integral player in seeing the bills through, too.

The final rescue package got only GOP support. No Democrats voted for the bills; they had demanded more oversight of charter schools as part of the DPS legislation. The Detroit Education Commission ultimately got left out. That was the right call. Charter schools shouldn’t be blamed for the failings of DPS, and parental choice should not be limited to keep the district afloat.

While many in Detroit are denouncing the bill because it does not contain the DEC, the package represents a commitment to Detroit and its schools by the Legislature.

The elements it does contain — erasure of the debt, $150 million to start a new district, return of local control — is exactly what Detroiters demanded a year ago when this process started.

Elimination of the roughly $500 million obligation frees up $1,100 per pupil that had been going to debt service, and now can be spent in the classroom.

There’s enough money to raise teacher pay and allow the district to retain and attract the best instructors. The measures give DPS every opportunity to build a school system that can compete with charters and private schools for students.

It can work to provide a path to quality education in Detroit. But the bills alone won’t do the job. The rest is up to Detroiters.

It is essential they elect a quality school board in November and then demand schools that don’t fail their children.