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House approves $48.7M to fund DPS through June

March 22, 2016

Courtesy of MIRS News Service

The House voted Thursday to supply Detroit Public Schools (DPS) with $48.7 million in leftover tobacco settlement revenue, money needed to keep the doors open at the city’s public schools through the remainder of the school year.

The House voted 104-5 to pass the bill. Reps. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), Bill LaVoy (D- Monroe) and Aaron Miller (R- Sturgis) voted against.

The $48.7 million injection of funds, HB 5692, is tie-barred to HB 4835, which empowers the Financial Review Commission (FRC) overseeing the City of Detroit’ finances to assume control of the school district’s finances. The $48.7 million is counted towards the $515 million debt package.

“I’m very happy that we were able to pass the supplemental along with the financial oversight,” said House Speaker Rep. Kevin Cotter (R- Mt. Pleasant). “I think this is a great first step.”

HB 5385 was amended to clarify the role and operation of the FRC amid concerns regarding the implementation. Amendments offered by Rep. Al Pscholka (R- Stevensville) clarified that the FRC would maintain control over the existing debts of the school district.

The House passed the measure 66-43. Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) broke with Democrats and voted for it. Rep. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek) broke with Republicans and voted against it.

Santana spoke in favor of the two-bill package as a first step in reforming the district. “The first thing you need to do is get an accountant and get a financial planner,” said Santana.

“It [The FRC] is a checker checking the checker,” added Santana.

“Today is a first step and a bit of a rushed first step because of timing,” said Minority Floor Leader Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), urging colleagues to continue to work toward reform on DPS. “We are passing out what I would call a ‘short-term fix’ . . . for a problem that needs to have comprehensive dialogue.”

Singh, who voted against the HB 5385 along with 42 other Democrats, asked colleagues not to view their “no'” votes as a vote against financial review for the district in general.

“Don’t take our vote at this time against FRC as a vote against financial review,” said Singh.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee previously expressed concern that the FRC had too much control over academic and collective-bargaining matters, including hiring a superintendent for the new school district.

“It doesn’t say ‘select’ it says ‘approve’ and that contract is probably going to be the largest contract the school district is going to enter into, so I see a real role for the FRC there,” said Pscholka to reporters.

Pscholka also said that going forward with the House reform package he expects to see a “bipartisan” solution.

Cotter said he has no defined timeline for passing the remainder of the House’s six-bill $515 million package, but that passage of the supplemental gives the House time “to get it right.” Pscholka said earlier this week the House Appropriations Committee will not “lollygag” on reporting out the bills.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said he believes the Senate is, for the most part, in agreement with the emergency funding. He all but predicted the funding bill would come out of the Senate next week, before the two-week spring recess.

The emergency funding is needed since Transition Manager Steven Rhodes has said the district won’t have the money to pay teachers after April 8.

Meekhof said the passage of the financial piece could be passed with the Senate’s DPS reforms or it could be taken up by itself while the long-term reform package is still being worked on.

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