Editorial: DPS board must prove itself

The Detroit News

The best shot the new Detroit Public Schools Community District had at long-term survival was a quality school board. Last Tuesday, city residents chose a board that doesn’t offer a lot of hope for the district’s viability. But the members must rise to the challenge.

It looks to be a better group than the current one, and it needs to be up to the task.

The new board will be responsible for implementing the state-approved reforms aimed at keeping the district financially solvent and academically competent.

Detroiters had too little help in sorting through 63 names on the ballot and choosing seven. It appears voters in some cases defaulted to name recognition, or opted to return previous members of the failed school board.

There are a couple of bright spots on this new board, and hopefully they can form the nucleus of a governing body committed to the well-being of students.

Sonya Mays is chief among them. Mays, the only candidate endorsed by The Detroit News to make it through the election, brings a wealth of financial experience, including a stint helping the city of Detroit through its bankruptcy. She now runs a nonprofit in the city that aims to boost affordable living options in the neighborhoods.

Her fellow board members would be wise to let her take the lead on many of the financial issues that will come before them.

Less encouraging is the return of longtime school board member LeMar Lemmons, who had a stint as president of the board. He can be expected to try to run the show, and return the board to its previous poor practices. Making matters worse, his wife, Georgia Lemmons, a teacher, also got elected.

Still, Lemmons is the only one of the 10 current board members who ran for the board to get selected.

Not surprisingly, four of the top vote-getters were endorsed and financially backed by the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers: Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, community programming coordinator for UAW-Ford; Iris Taylor, retired from the health care field; Misha Stallworth, advocacy coordinator at the Detroit Agency on Aging; and Deborah Hunter-Harvill, who has a background in education administration.

Taylor and Stallworth, along with Mays, also received the backing of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and that’s reassuring.

The union-supported group advertised itself as the slate that “will end corruption in our schools.” Now they have the opportunity.

In January, when the board officially takes over from emergency manager Steven Rhodes, its first order of business will be to hire a superintendent. That decision is extremely important and will help set the tone for the new district. Board members should conduct a nationwide search, but they ought to include Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather as a contender. She’s done well in her role.

The board will get some assistance from the city’s Financial Review Commission, which will oversee the district’s finances.

Everything else is now in the board’s hands. After seven years of direct state control, city residents have said they want a return to local control.

They have it now, but along with that comes the direct responsibility for improving the schools that 45,000 students still count on.