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Can DPS reform pass by Spring Break?

March 15, 2016

Article courtesy of MIRS News Service

The full Senate will not take up a Detroit Public Schools (DPS) reform package next Tuesday and it’s not clear if the Government Operations Committee will tackle the issue either, a Senate Republican source told MIRS. 

Senate leadership canceled its committee hearing on the DPS bills this week while DPS transition leader Steven Rhodes told a House committee Wednesday the district wouldn’t be able to pay its teachers after April 8. 

If the chambers can’t come to a final agreement before it leaves for spring recess on March 24, the expected outcome is the passage of a $50 million loan or appropriation to carry DPS through year’s end. 

The Senate Republican caucus began to sift through bills being advanced by Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) this week. Whether the caucus will be comfortable moving anything next week is “premature,” according to one source. 

However, MIRS has seen draft language for one of the bills that includes the creation of a Detroit Education Commission (DEC) — a local body that would oversee the opening and closing of all public and charter schools in the district. 

Hansen declined to discuss the details of any drafts that may be circulating or the ongoing negotiations. 

Hansen did tell reporters that there has always been a sense of urgency regarding a DPS fix, but he’s been continuing to negotiate with relevant parties and meet with lawmakers to ensure they understand and are comfortable with what they’ll eventually be voting on. 

He said he’s still hopeful the Senate can move its plan out prior to the spring legislative break and work out a plan with the House before the April 8 deadline imposed by Rhodes, but stressed that his main goal is to get the job done right. 

“I think at the end of the day, it’s going to work out the way it needs to work out,” he said. 

Hansen added that he’s holding off a supplemental bill to get the district through the end of the year for the moment in favor of trying to make forward movement on the entire package first. 

“I don’t want to take the pressure off, yet,” he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said he understands Rhodes wants a reform package passed before April 8, but pointed out that the judge is not the Legislature. 

The deadline for DPS legislation is “when we get it done,” Meekhof said. He said the negotiations are not quite finished and that the Senate, particularly Hansen, is working diligently on the issue. 

Gideon D’Assandro, press secretary for House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), said it would be “optimistic” to expect a full reform package to get through both chambers in the next two weeks. 

D’Assandro said the district has given “mixed signals” about the amount of money needed to keep the district solvent and on what timeline, but that a supplemental bill “could move a lot faster.” 

Cotter hasn’t, yet, taken DPS bankruptcy off the table, which Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit) stressed today should not happen for the good of the employees and retirees who have paychecks and pensions on the line. 

“We must take into consideration those who have given 20 to 30 years of service to the district, and what bankruptcy would mean to their pensions,” Love said. “When we dismiss the potential harm of a short-sighted bankruptcy option we overlook the catastrophic consequences not only for the students of Detroit but the students, teachers, administrators and retirees across the state. This is an opportunity to start again with a more inclusive and collaborative model of financial solvency.” 

House Appropriations Committee Chair Al Pscholka (R- Stevensville) said that it’s “never been a question” whether the Legislature would pass a supplemental bill to keep DPS solvent through the school year. 

Pscholka said Rhodes “lit a grenade” yesterday in his testimony to both chambers. 

“I don’t know how helpful that was, because I don’t think there’s ever been an intention to let them miss a payday,” Pscholka said. “I haven’t heard anyone say that, and we’ve kept money on the balance sheet to do this.”  

Behind the scenes, the Governor’s office is crossing its fingers that the DPS package can clear at least one chamber by March 24.

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