Dismantling Detroit public schools

From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—On Oct. 19 Michigan Gov. Snyder outlined his legislative agenda for the continued dismantling of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) and the isolation of Detroiters from Detroit public education.

Snyder proposes to split DPS into two: one, Detroit Public Schools, would hold the debt but have no physical assets or operational functions. It would collect the millage that Detroiters approved in 2012, and send all of it to creditors. The elected school board would remain symbolically over this neutered entity.

A new second entity, Detroit Community School District (DCSD) would run the education program and receive state funding. It would be controlled by a seven-member board, three appointed by Detroit Mayor Duggan and four by Snyder.

With the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) created in 2011, Snyder would have two school districts in Detroit that he created and controls.

Snyder says there is $515 million in DPS debt—he neglected to say the state created it. He plans to take $100 million more from the millage revenue for “investments” in DCSD, and expects another $100 million in liabilities by next June 30. Thus the Snyder plan puts a $715 million debt load on the millage revenue.

SCHOOL FUNDS GO DIRECTLY TO BANKS

Detroiters approved the 2012 millage renewal explicitly for the operation of schools to educate children. Snyder’s plan is of questionable legality, because it diverts that millage revenue.

He predicts Detroiters will renew the millage in seven years in order to finish paying the debt. But if all the money goes to creditors, that giant sucking sound of Detroit property taxes going to Wall Street may not generate a pro-millage renewal.

Snyder’s plan would create a five-member Detroit Education Commission (DEC) that would have power over the DPS, DCSD, EAA and charter schools, run school enrollment activity, assess each school’s performance, close schools that were deemed inadequate and open new schools.

Snyder will triplicate his control over Detroit schools by expanding the Financial Review Commission (FRC) that quietly runs oversight of the City of Detroit finances. The Mayor and City Council President are statutory members. For DPS oversight, Snyder would pull the latter two off that aspect of the commission and put two more of his people on it.

OUTSIDE CONTROL OF SCHOOLS

What it means is that Detroiters would have no say in any aspect of the education of their own children. Further, the very assets that generations of Detroit citizens built up and own would be shifted to Snyder’s agents. Even if proposed legislation continued legalistic ownership to Detroit citizens, it permanently takes away the rights of our ownership.

This is important because the Snyder entities (DEC and FRC) can not only close schools, but the DEC can open schools. Snyder says that they could be DCSD or charter schools. He says that his DEC appointees would be “agnostic” on which system is better.

But when Snyder’s Emergency Managers took over Highland Park and Muskegon Heights schools, they shut them down and chartered all schools in those cities. No doubt Snyder’s “agnostic” appointees to the DEC will worship at the shibboleth of privatized education.

–Elena Harrada

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