Budget & Finance

Financially Strapped Detroit Schools Can’t Pay Employees After April 8

By Corey Mitchell — March 09, 2016 2 min read
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The Detroit school district might be unable to pay its employees after April 8, the district’s newly appointed emergency manager told state lawmakers Wednesday.

Testifying before the state House Appropriations Committee, Steven Rhodes described the school district’s financial situation in bleak terms: If the state legislature doesn’t quickly approve $50 million in aid, teachers and other employees face payless paydays.

Rhodes urged lawmakers to approve short-term aid before their two-week spring break later this month, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“The April 8th date concerns me greatly because there is no Plan B,” Rhodes said, according to the Free Press. “We cannot print money. We looked at some options, like expenses that could be deferred but that’s not enough to buy another two weeks of pay for teachers.”

State lawmakers are considering legislation to rescue the Detroit schools, which is saddled with more than $500 million in debt and dozens of dilapidated school buildings plagued by rodents, mold, and heating and cooling problems.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has rolled out plans to deal with the debt and turn around the district’s poor-performing schools, but it remains unclear when, and if, lawmakers will vote on the legislation. One piece of the legislative package would take $750 million in taxpayer money over the next decade to pay off the Detroit schools debt.

The ongoing federal corruption probe of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, a state-run district that operates the worst of the states’ lowest-performing schools, could be complicating efforts to pass legislation.

Rhodes, a retired U.S. bankruptcy judge who guided the city of Detroit through its bankruptcy filing, told committee members that he doesn’t think bankruptcy is a viable option for the school district because most of its debt can’t be erased, Crain’s Detroit Business reported.

Rhodes told several news organizations that he can’t in “good conscience” ask employees to work without pay.

“Lawmakers in Lansing must take action now to secure DPS’ financial security and focus on the future of our neighborhood public schools and the children and families who depend on those schools,” read a statement on the Detroit Federation of Teachers website. “They need to avoid a financial crisis that would force schools to close before the end of the 2016 school year, denying children the education they deserve.”

Coordinated sickouts by Detroit teachers that shut down schools en masse in December and January shone the national spotlight on the condition of the district’s finances and school buildings.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.