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House GOP keeps DPS in state control for 8 more years

February 23, 2016

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) would still get the $72 million a year Gov. Rick Snyder is calling for to stabilize the indebted district, but Detroit voters wouldn’t see total control of the district through an elected school board for eight years under a plan House Republicans unveiled Wednesday. 

“This is probably one of the most important things we’re going to do,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) said of keeping DPS’ doors open until the end of the school year. 

On the elected school board component, Pscholka said he did miss a call from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan this morning. Duggan wants to see a return to an elected school board this year – some eight years earlier than what House Republicans envision. 

“I would say our experience with the elected board has not been that great,” Pscholka said. “Nor has the experience under total state control, so this is a hybrid.” 

House Democrats were quick to pan the proposal’s reliance on state oversight. 

“The state of Michigan has been operating DPS since 1999 through three administrations, and DPS is in debt and about to run out of money,” said Rep. Brian Banks (D-Detroit). “The new plan is to let the state continue to control DPS for at least another 10 years and likely more. I don’t consider leaving out parents, Detroit educators, and elected school board members and others as progress.” 

Pscholka said he believes there is a consensus among House and Senate GOP lawmakers that the issue has to be dealt with, but that the House wants a stronger emphasis on educational attainment. 

Announcement of the package in the House led Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof (R-West Olive) to urge caution, in light of a Senate package that’s been in the works for several months. 

“Last that I understood I had a brief discussion with Speaker [Kevin] Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant). He didn’t say what their issues were, but they were going to begin to discuss what they were going to do with DPS,” Meekhof told MIRS. “I cautioned them and said, ‘Look, Sen. [Goeff] Hansen’s (R-Hart) been working six or eight months on this, so let’s be cautious.” 

Rep. Daniella Garcia (R-Holland), sponsor of two bills in the package, said the House GOP plan is to put Detroit schools, including charters, under an A-F building grade system and put in place an early literacy program in the district similar to legislation the House passed earlier this session. 

Another academic change would be to allow the district to seek an alternative certification program to bring in teachers from different backgrounds. That means they wouldn’t need the teaching certificates teachers in other districts need. 

This concept, among other parts of the plan, led American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan President David Hecker to call the plan “an attempt to masquerade attacks on those who teach our children as ‘putting students first.'” 

“It is not putting students first to undermine parents’ confidence that their children are being taught by competent and trustworthy people by hiring noncertified teachers or by privatizing instructional staff,” Hecker said. 

The House package incorporates Snyder’s idea of creating a new school district to handle the teaching and learning of Detroit schoolchildren while the current DPS will only exist to pay off an estimated $520 million in debt over 10 years. 

Changes to how teachers would interact with the new community district include tying merit pay increases closer to academic performance. It also increases penalties and alters the process by which a teacher strike can be initiated. These provisions are in response to the teacher ‘sick outs’ that Republicans say have “plagued the system” this year. 

House Republicans also would like to cap administration costs at the new Detroit Community Schools to six percent so they more accurately reflect the average spending among the state’s 500 plus school districts on administration. 

The package also contains concepts Garcia’s been pushing with the House Education Committee to remove from the bargaining table the topic of school calendars. 

The Garcia package, HB 5193 and HB 5194, deal with the school calendar and removing the issue from bargaining subjects for all districts. The bills are pending on the House floor. 

The Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) applauded the House approach. 

“There is one fact upon which everyone agrees. The Detroit Public Schools has failed Detroit’s kids and Michigan’s taxpayers,” said GLEP Executive Director Gary Naeyaert. “Simply renaming the district won’t create better results. To that end, GLEP is very interested in today’s introduction of a six-bill package to address education reforms in Detroit by key members of the House of Representatives.” 

While critics may accuse Garcia of trying to emasculate the unions in Detroit, she disagrees with that categorization. 

“This bill is not intended to go after the unions,” Garcia said. “This bill is intended to put kids first.” 

MIRS asked what would be left for unions to do if their collective bargaining rights were removed? 

“Go into the classroom and work every day,” she said. 

She was also asked if her hidden agenda was to abolish the union. She said no to that, too. 

“It’s my intent to put quality education in the classrooms so they can provide the best quality education so the kids are served. It’s as simple as that.” 

But if you take away bargaining rights, isn’t that a de facto way to abolish unions? 

The Holland lawmaker counters, “That would be one opinion, but that’s not the intent here.” 

Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) rejected the GOP plan, saying, “Nobody in the Detroit delegation or the Democratic Party is going to advocate that Detroit waits eight years while the state has some manner of control to get locally elected school board officials back in place” 

Asked if the GOP plan is a dream or a nightmare, he argued, “It’s a dream if they think it will pass and a nightmare for citizens of Detroit if it found a way to passage.” 

Meanwhile, the Senate GOP sponsor of the DPS reform said he finds the House GOP alternative “interesting,” but he has not studied it.   

Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) said, “We all have to be on the same page,” and when it comes to the proposed eight-year phase-in of a new DPS school board, the Senator offered, “I think Detroit should take control of its own schools. That’s how it’s going to be successful.” 

Asked if that meant the quicker the better, he responded, “We’ve got it at August and November and taking over in January. The bills we have are now.” 

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