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Fiscal Manager for Detroit Schools Urged

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The Michigan legislature should create a new post of emergency financial director to take over fiscal decisions from the Detroit school board if the system's persistent budget woes are not remedied by the end of the year, a special state panel has recommended.

The panel's harsh criticism of the Detroit district's fiscal management and its recommendations for drastic action could mark a significant turning point in the state's relations with its largest school district.

In another major development, Detroit's superintendent, Arthur Jefferson, last week recommended that the school board find a replacement for him by June. He said he would be willing to serve out the remainder of his two-year contract, which was approved last summer, in an advisory capacity.

For the past several years, state officials have required the Detroit school board to submit plans for eliminating its deficits and have granted it an exemption from the state's balanced-budget law.

Despite the plans, however, the district's operating-budget deficit has doubled in each of the last three years, and is projected to top $150 million for the current fiscal year.

The new report by the special panel, appointed last year by the state board of education, calls for the district to slash $50 million from its current $700-million budget.

The panel also called for a special election this spring for Detroit voters to reconsider a property-tax hike that they rejected in November.

In last year's election, which was widely seen as a rejection of the school system's current leadership, voters also ousted three school-board incumbents. (See Education Week, Nov. 16, 1988.)

The panel also recommended that the state increase its funding for the district by an unspecified amount, and that the system be required to adopt specific goals for academic improvement and report annually to the state on its progress.

The state board is expected to consider the report this month.--ws

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