School & District Management

Mich. Lawmakers Approve Takeover Bill for Detroit

By Bess Keller — March 31, 1999 2 min read
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Michigan lawmakers last week finally reached agreement on a compromise bill that will shift power over the Detroit schools to Mayor Dennis W. Archer.

The measure, which calls for the mayor to appoint a new school board, contains provisions designed to allay fears that the voices of parents might be lost or that the mayor would exercise unchecked power.

Gov. John Engler, who pushed for a Chicago-style takeover as a fix for the troubled 184,000-student district, was scheduled to sign the bill March 26.

“The final result is making him very happy today,” John Truscott, the governor’s spokesman, said late last week. “The bottom line here is providing the education of kids in the Detroit public school system, which has been failing them.”

Under the final compromise, Mr. Archer will name six of the seven members of the new reform board, which is charged with appointing a new chief executive officer for the district.

In provisions that will strengthen the hand of Mr. Engler, the seventh member will be the state schools superintendent, who is appointed by the Republican governor, or someone chosen by the state chief. And the district’s new top administrator must be approved by a unanimous vote of the board.

All-Night Negotiations

The legislation, which will take effect immediately upon Mr. Engler’s signing it, allows the existing elected school board to continue to meet through 2002, when the last of the board members’ terms expire. But the bill essentially strips the elected panel of all power.

Voters will decide in five years whether to keep the reform board.

The Senate approved the final bill 31-7 on March 25 after the House passed it 66-43 following an all-night session, the second in the bill’s tortuous history. (“Takeover Plan for Detroit Shifts Gears,” March 24, 1999.)

Many Detroit Democrats, state lawmakers among them, had condemned the takeover as a racially insensitive plan proposed by a white governor supported by a largely white legislature. The city’s population is 75 percent black.

The bill also drew vehement protests from parents, but in recent weeks many civic and community leaders supported a change led by the mayor, who is black. The takeover plan had also won support from local labor unions.

Mr. Archer, a Democrat who first reluctantly but then strongly embraced the new power, has 30 days to appoint his six board members. He said last week that he had begun sifting through names. The board in turn will have 30 days to name a chief executive.

Meanwhile, a coalition of local community groups had vowed to challenge the legislation in the courts.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 1999 edition of Education Week as Mich. Lawmakers Approve Takeover Bill for Detroit

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