School & District Management

Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder Creates New ‘District’ to Oversee Detroit Schools

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 30, 2015 3 min read
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This post first appeared on the State EdWatch blog.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has unveiled his plan to divide control of the Detroit schools, and it siphons most power over the district to a new “City of Detroit Education District” that would operate alongside the current Detroit public school system.

The new Education District would be responsible for operating schools in the city. Its seven-member board would be made up of four members appointed by the governor and three appointed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Eventually, elections would determine board membership.

The current Detroit school system and its elected board and manager would have one responsibility only: paying off the system’s $483 million debt. Both the Education District and the current DPS system would be overseen by a Financial Review Commission, which is designed “to ensure coordination, continuity and that financial strength is restored and maintained.”

The plan, announced April 30, would also create a new Detroit Education Commission, again staffed by members appointed by Snyder and Duggan, which would in turn hire an education manager responsible for operating both traditional public and charter schools in the city. The manager would oversee a “universal choice” system in which students would be free to pick from charters or traditional public schools through a process called Kids in Detroit Schools (KIDS).

How would this look in an organizational chart? Snyder has an answer to that question in a report from his official website:

If state legislators sign off on the plan, the new organizational plan for Detroit schools would begin on July 1, 2016.

“We’re collaborating on a new approach to help children get the education they need and deserve so they can be successful. Detroit has made tremendous strides as a city, but it needs strong public schools to truly thrive from downtown to the neighborhoods,” Snyder said in his statement announcing the plan, which also rattled off a series of statistics about Detroit schools’ fiscal and educational troubles.

As the Detroit Free Press describes it, the setup of the financial commission is similar to the bureaucratic setup that governed the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Snyder, a Republican, stressed more than once that this plan is not a “bailout” of Detroit schools, arguing that while state aid will be used to help support the new system of governance, the system is designed so that the “failures of the past” won’t happen again. State aid for the new Education District would amount to $72 million per year until the existing system’s debts are paid off.

Snyder’s plan drew immediate criticism from the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which said that Snyder ignored a plan from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, of which David Hecker, the president of AFT Michigan, is a co-chairman. The coalition seeks, among other things, to have control of the district returned to the elected school board.

The district is currently run by an emergency manager, Darnell Earley, appointed by Snyder—the emergency manager would continue to oversee Detroit public schools, but wouldn’t have a role in the new Education District.

In its report on changing Detroit schools, the coalition also said there should be changes to how city schools are funded, and greater transparency for the city’s charter schools. It also wants the state to take responsibility for the school system’s debt.

“State policies created an unfair playing field for DPS, such as the cost of paying for an expensive retirement system it did not design,” the coalition report states. “The state is liable for the debt, much of it accumulated while the state was in charge of the district. The longer we let it fester, the more expensive the debt will become.”

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