Pancakes and Politics produces real talk – and straight talk – about Detroit schools

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Detroit Public Schools were considered close to the gold standard for what public education could and should be in a major American City. in Lansing
For reasons that should be obvious, that needs to change. Preferably sooner than later, that is if Detroit wants to maintain that happy talk narrative currently circulating around the country about how much everything is getting so much better. Because if the schools crash and burn, then rest assured that this city’s much touted revitalization will crash right along with it.
Early Thursday morning, at this year’s first Pancakes and Politics forum, the panel discussion started off  politely enough but quickly evolved into a more direct and honest assessment of what is truly behind the problem and what needs to be done to solve it. Perhaps some of the most frank talk was delivered near the end of the conversation by Michigan Sen. Bert Johnson, who was the first to tackle the issue of race, labeling it “the elephant in the room”, and putting it on the table for all to see as a  too-big-to-be-denied-yet-for-some-odd-reason-still-unspoken reason why the children of Detroit are considered an afterthought in Lansing.
To be sure, racism is not the only reason for the current condition of Detroit schools, and to blame all of DPS’s demise on ‘The Man’ would be disingenuous. But, as Johnson pointed out, to ignore the obvious is to ignore the problem altogether. Johnson also said that in the Michigan legislature, Detroit legislators are on their own, which makes negotiations extremely difficult when it comes to getting what they need for their constituents. Namely us. He harshly joked that in Lansing there are the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Detroiters. This means, suggested Johnson, that the fate of Detroit’s children, to an uncomfortable degree, rests with a group of legislators who do not believe that black people are capable of governing their own affairs and making their own decisions. Interestingly – and thankfully – enough, one of the audience polling questions asked those in attendance who they would most trust with the governance of their schools, the governor, the mayor, or a locally elected school board. More than 80 percent quickly responded in favor of a locally elected school board.
Another question which prompted a strong response was what would happen after April 8 if the legislature did not pass the funding legislation requested by Gov. Snyder to keep DPS operational. Judge Steven Rhodes, now serving as DPS Emergency Manager #5, has said that teachers could no longer be paid after that date if the legislation is not passed. He has also said he would not require teachers to work for free.
Panelist John Rakolta was adamant that the legislation would absolutely pass because there was no option, practically threatening the legislature with a mass uprising on Lansing’s front steps if the funds were not released to save DPS.
“If you thought Flint was bad, this will be ten times worse,” he said.
For the record, Ivy Bailey, Interim President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and also a panelist, indicated that Rhodes is the first emergency manager who appears to have an interest in working with and listening to the teachers.
“I’m going to be hopefully optimistic. Judge Rhodes did something that no other emergency manager did. When Judge Rhodes first came into the system, I don’t even think he was working yet, he asked to speak to the teachers. And we had a large meeting at Cass Technical High School. The questions were tough, because as you know our teachers are frustrated and tired, so he got some hard questions. But he did not back away from them. He didn’t walk out on us. We’ve had other emergency managers come to a meeting and when the questions got done they got up and left. But Judge Rhodes stayed there. He answered all of the questions. He’s been calling over to the union office to ask our opinions on certain things.  And he’s been very open to the teachers. There was also an incident at Cass Tech, and he went over there and dealt with that situation personally.”
 

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