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Senate Passes New House DPS Package with Minor Changes

June 15, 2016

Senate Republicans Wednesday evening pushed through a Detroit Public Schools (DPS) reform package that closely resembled what the House passed late last week with a couple changes.

With the House’s expected concurrence, the bills will be sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature, despite the objections of Democrats.

The two changes include making sure the School Aid Fund (SAF) is not impacted if the start-up costs of the new Detroit Community Schools exceed estimates. Rather, the General Fund would pick up any overrun. This change is in reaction to a Senate Fiscal Agency (SFA) report showing an estimated $88.1 million shortage over 10 years.

The other change addresses an issue flagged earlier this week that the state School Reform Officer may not legally have the power to shut down a poor performing charter school.

Otherwise, the House package carried the day. It turns DPS into an entity that manages the school’s roughly $500 million debt and transfers the district’s students, teachers, administrators and staff to a new Detroit Community Schools.

It pays off $465 million in DPS’ remaining debt over 10 years and steers $150 million to the new public school district. The package dissolves the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) after next year. It returns the district to a new elected school board that is overseen by the same financial oversight body as the city of Detroit.

A mayoral-appointed Detroit Education Commission (DEC) to control the opening and closing of schools is not part of the package, the biggest problem Democrats had with the bills.

They also didn’t like that the new school district would have the power to bring in uncertified teachers. In addition, they also felt the language is not strong enough to close failing charter schools and tightens up the legal action that can be taken against striking teachers.

The four Detroit area lawmakers took turns blasting the bills. Senate Minority Floor Leader Morris Hood III (D-Detroit) called the Republicans “cowards” for passing partisan bills because the summer recess was a day away.

“I have a sad and disgusted taste in my mouth and a sad and disgusted feeling in my heart,” Hood said.

Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) praised Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) for spending 15 months working in his community to come up with a bipartisan package and slammed Republicans for not standing behind the bills they previously supported.

“Say what you will about our 10-member caucus, but we would never stab one of our members in the back like you did to him,” Knezek said.

Speaking of Hansen, he voted no on the flagship bill, telling the chamber in an emotional speech that not having a consistent site planning process for schools will continue the chaos parents are currently experiencing. Traditional public schools will be put against charter schools as opposed to making all schools accountable.

Hansen said he stands with the parents and children of Detroit, who he said should be receiving the same type of educational opportunities as families in other parts of the state, not “3/4 of a loaf,” a reference to statements made a Snyder official last week.

“I fear a prime opportunity for real achievement has been missed,” Hansen said.

Speaking to a small audience of visiting House members, the Democrats predicted the package would set the new Detroit Community Schools up for failure because it “demonizes” teachers and doesn’t give the district the money needed to put it on a path for success.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said the package resolves the issues at Detroit Public Schools through a “realistic compromise that puts Detroit Schools on a path to the future.”

Dan Quisenberry of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies praised the Senate’s action, saying it “represents an opportunity to transform the quality of public education in the city of Detroit.”

“Additionally, we are pleased that the legislation provides to DPS the funding they need to avoid bankruptcy while returning local governance to Detroiters,” he said. “It sets the stage to move forward as a quality education system, where traditional and charter schools can work together to meet the needs of Detroit families.

“Now the work begins.”

HB 5383, which creates the mechanism in which the new Detroit Community Schools receives $617 million over 10 years from the tobacco settlement fund, passed, 20-17.

Those Senate Republicans who voted no with Democrats on HB 5383 were: Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), Sen. Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan), Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights), Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) and Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City).

HB 5384, which transfers DPS’ assets to the new DCS, passed 19-18. Hansen voted no on this bill along with the previously listed senators.

HB 5387, which reduces from 60 to 15 days the time the state has to act to on a complaint about a teacher strike, passed 22-14, with Casperson, Hansen, Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), Rocca and Schmidt voting no. Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) voted yes, but said later that was done by mistake.

SB 0711, which would give the Financial Review Commission oversight over the DCS, passed 23-14, with Colbeck, Emmons, Pavlov and Rocca voting no with Democrats.

SB 0820, which prohibits a superintendent or chair of the local school board from serving on the financial review commission, passed 22-15 with Colbeck, Emmons, Pavlov and Rocca voting no with Democrats.

SB 0822, which makes sure the new school district gets $150 million quickly, passed with Colbeck, Emmons, Pavlov, Rocca, Schmidt and Schuitmaker voting no with Democrats.

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