Law & Courts

Detroit School Board Lawsuit Targets Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

By Corey Mitchell — April 07, 2016 2 min read
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The Detroit school board has filed a federal lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, alleging that his state-appointed emergency managers have failed to adequately address the district’s financial troubles, crumbling school buildings, and academic deficiencies.

The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of roughly 58,000 students who have attended classes in the district since 2011. That total includes students enrolled in the state’s Education Achievement Authority, a state-run district that operates the worst Michigan’s lowest-performing schools.

The suit notes the district’s declining enrollment and an ongoing scandal that has more than a dozen former administrators facing charges in a bribery and kickback scheme. Also named in the suit are at least three of the emergency managers that have run the Detroit schools; the district has been under state oversight since 2009.

“Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law and related practices were used to compromise and damage the quality of education received by all [Detroit public schools] students with life-long consequences in the name of financial urgency,” the lawsuit claims.

The suit also names former Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in 2015 to an indictment charging her with receiving money and benefits from her former employers in exchange for steering no-bid contracts worth more than $23 million to the firms. Federal investigators are also scrutinizing contracts awarded during her time in Detroit, where she worked as chief academic officer.

Snyder’s emergency manager law has faced renewed scrutiny this year as the district teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and teachers and parents have become more vocal about their distaste for the law.

This isn’t the first school-related lawsuit targeting the emergency manager law. In January, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, along with the American Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit against the district and former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, alleging that the district has failed to “provide a minimally adequate education and to properly maintain the schools.”

Amid the mounting legal challenges, state lawmakers are considering legislation to reconfigure the Detroit school system, which is saddled with more than $500 million in debt and dozens of dilapidated school buildings. Snyder has rolled out plans to deal with the debt and to turn around the district’s poor-performing schools by splitting the district in two. One piece of the legislative package would take $750 million in taxpayer money over the next decade to pay off the Detroit schools debt.

In April, Snyder approved nearly $50 million in emergency funding last month to Detroit schools open through the end of the year. He also is pressing state lawmakers to enact a $720 million restructuring plan that would pay off the district’s operating debt.

Here’s a look at the lawsuit:

Detroit School Board Lawsuit

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