In the 2016 State of the State Address, Governor Rick Snyder brought attention to the need for quick action to reform the entire structure of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS). In particular, he highlighted the need to address the mounting financial situation and to ensure that current students can achieve a much better education. Governor Snyder recognized and thanked Senator Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) for introducing legislation just days earlier, and urged the rest of the legislators to get on board.
On January 14th, Senator Hansen introduced a two-package bill, Senate Bills 710 and 711, as attempts to address the current needs of DPS. Under Senate Bill 710, a new “Community District” would be created to assume the operations of the current DPS, which would leave DPS to maintain a limited separate identity for the sole purpose of levying taxes and repaying existing debts. DPS would then be fully dissolved once all of its debts were fully repaid. The current DPS school board would be dissolved once the elected board of the Community District takes office. Operational responsibilities and assets would be transferred to the Community District on July 1, 2016. Funding for the operations of the new Community district would come from the State. The Community District would initially and temporarily be governed by a nine-member board appointed by the Governor and the Detroit mayor. Board elections would then take place in November 2016, with the elected board members taking office in January 2017. Under Senate Bill 711, the new Community District would be overseen by the Financial Review Commission (FRC) under the Michigan Financial Review Commission Act. The FRC would oversee the finances of the district, including the approval of budgets and contracts. The Community District would appoint a superintendent, subject to approval and termination by the Financial Review Commission.
These measures are just the beginning of a discussion about what exactly should be done to address both the deficit and academic concerns of DPS. There are a lot of stakeholders who are trying to iron out the legislation the way they want it. However, this does not change that a total of $1,100 per student is currently going to debt service rather than educational programs and services. If the legislation is not figured out soon, the debt will most likely grow, and more students will likely leave the district, taking their per-pupil funding with them.
The Senate Committee on Government Operations is currently hearing testimony on the bills from various stakeholders of the community, Democrats in both houses have voiced concerns that the bills contain very few of the goals they support. State Rep. Brian Banks, (D-Detroit), says, “It doesn’t go far enough to address our concerns.” Although, they are willing to work on a resolution they can live with. One of the major issues concerns where state funding for the new district will come from. He believes that other districts in the state should not be harmed while attempting to help DPS. Hansen has said no funding source is off the table, but they are looking into alternative sources because his preference is to not use the School Aid Fund.
On February 18, 2016, House Republicans introduced a two-package bill of their own in an attempt to assist DPS. House Bills 5383 and 5384 differ greatly from the Senate bills and immediately drew criticism from Democrats. This package of bills would maintain the philosophy of having an old district and a new district where the new district is focused on educating the children while the old district pays off the debt. The House bills, however, call for phasing in an elected school board, with full implementation within eight years. A financial review commission, similar to the one that oversees Detroit’s finances post-bankruptcy, would oversee DPS’s finances. The bills would move DPS employees from a traditional pension system to a 401(k)-type system. They would prohibit collective bargaining on things such as the calendar, work schedules, and contracting to third-party vendors. However, pay benefits would still be subject to collective bargaining. General fund dollars would generate the $72 million per year for the next ten years to pay off the debt. Part of this money would come from an inadvertent tax credit given to the auto insurance industry in 2013 that will generate $80 million a year. House Republicans understand this is controversial, but believe this is the best way to go about reforming DPS. A statement released, shortly after the bills were introduced, from the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan said the House proposal is largely “an attempt to masquerade an attack on those who teach our children as ‘putting students first.’”
In the mean time, Governor Snyder appointed retired judge Steve Rhodes as financial manger for the struggling Detroit Public Schools. Rhodes formerly presided over the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy trial and is tasked with financially guiding DPS as legislation to reform the district moves through the state Legislature. His job includes overseeing the district’s finances and operations, while finding and appointing an interim superintendent to focus on improving the districts dismal academic performance. Rhodes is taking over for Darnell Early, who earlier this month announced his resignation effective February 29. His decision came amid uproar in association with the Flint Water Crisis as he was Flint’s emergency manger when the city switched over to the Flint River water source. Many stakeholders in Detroit are hopeful Rhodes will help facilitate bringing local control back to the district, something they haven’t enjoyed since 2009.
The Governor signed a compromise temporary funding bill on March 29th.
• Bill Analysis: SB 710/711. (2016, February 5). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billanalysis/Senate/pdf/2015-SFA-0710-G.pdf
• DPS House legislation is an insult. (2016, February 18). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/02/18/dps-reform-schools/80567442/
• Gray, K., & Zaniewski, A. (2016, February 17). House GOP plan for DPS: Wait 8 years to elect board. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2016/02/17/house-gop-introduces-controversial-dps-legislation/80501842/
• Gray, K. (2016, January 14). DPS legislation drawing fire from Detroit lawmakers. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/14/dps-legislation-drawing-fire-detroit-lawmakers/78796254/
• McVicar, B. (2016, February 29). Snyder names former Detroit bankruptcy judge to lead Detroit schools. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/snyder_names_former_detroit_ba.html
• Snyder 2016 State of the State. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.michigan.gov/snyder/0,4668,7-277-74857_74858-373717--,00.html