Will Snyder's Plan for DPS Work?

gov_rick_snyder_640x427Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to transform the Detroit Public Schools begins with this: “The entire educational landscape in the city is not meeting the needs of students, parents or teachers. Detroit is the nation’s lowest-performing urban school area, with just 6 percent of high school students proficient in math, 4 percent proficient in science, and two-thirds not proficient in reading. In terms of finances, Detroit Public Schools has accrued $483 million in accumulated operating debt that is growing each day, and combined capital and bond debt of $1.54 billion. While there are good things happening in schools and pockets of shining successes, we can and must do better for our school children. Their future, opportunities for careers or college, and quality of life depend upon it.”
That is something that no one disputes. Education is on top of the mind of every parent in this city. Where you send your child to receive an education matters. The governor’s proposal would split the district and create an entirely new governing system for the district that would be managed by a seven-member board appointed by both Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. For instance, Snyder would appoint four and Duggan would also make four.
Called the City of Detroit Education District, the new school system will retain the students and teachers as well as well as labor contracts and the school buildings. The existing Detroit School Board will become the old district and would only pay the district’s $483 million debt. For the new district the state would contribute up to $72million annually toward the system. However, the Detroit Caucus in Lansing responded to the proposal with its own set of recommendations.
“There is value to developing a system of coordination, based on a certificate of need, to help regulate Detroit’s current educational landscape, to ensure adequate school opening and closure. However, this system should not be by appointment only,” the group said through its chair, Rep. Brian Banks. “We are asking for a system reflective of representative democracy, which is important to the citizens of the city of Detroit. A clearly defined rubric should be established for individuals appointed to this body and transparency in the RFP process of selecting any agency commissioned to evaluate schools within a common enrollment system.”
Detroit Caucus said the group should have representation or opportunity to make recommendations to the Detroit Education Commission.
“Additionally, timeline and commitment to restore full Detroit School Board Empowerment,” the group said while calling for the termination of the Education Achievement Authority.
“We are asking for the return of the 15 schools within the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), which is also run by the State of Michigan, and provide the schools with the necessary support from improved State School Reform Office (SSRO) low performing intervention models, ensuring audit, and an onsite school improvement team and return of approximately $50 million in revenue to Detroit Public Schools,”the Detroit Caucus stated.
At a town hall meeting held Monday evening at Wayne County Community College District University Center in Harper Woods organized by Banks, a host of education leaders, including DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Early, answered questions about the future of DPS.
The other participants included Gary Naeyaert of the Great Lakes Education Project, Todd Biederwolf, superintendent of Harper Woods Public Schools, Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, DPS Board of Education Chairman Lamar Lemmons, Lindsay Huddleston of Students First, and Teresa Weatherall Neal, the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools.
“The EAA has been a model for state inclusion. It hasn’t fully developed in terms of its mission. It is still a work in progress,” Early said. “As it relates to DPS, there are some things that need to be worked out. Until we hear how the EAA is going to do that, the jury is still out.”
Early said the fight over the future of the school district has been bogged down into a battle over personalities.
“Are we going to be marred by how we feel about the people who are fixing education? What are we going to do for those children? We’ve got to elevate the discussion,” he said.
Lemmons said the state is trying to abdicate its role in the present condition of the district.
“They are trying to escape their responsibility. When the city of Detroit had bad actors they went to jail,” Lemmons said. “Unfortunately, they were low-level and Black. As long as you move the can down the road they will continue to remove democratic governance.”
Early fired back that the state “is making a good out of a bad situation. The state is a good faith actor.”
Grand Rapids Superintendent Neal said they are watching what is taking place in Detroit closely because “we believe that it is important for all of our kids to be able to compete on an international level,” and that can’t happen if DPS is lagging behind.
But Neal indicated that she did close schools to trim the deficit in Grand Rapids when she took over. Off the chopping block in terms of curriculum were essentials like music, programs that DPS has had to slash according to education advocates.

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