Here in Detroit, the worst of what many of us have long suspected about Gov. Snyder’s intentions toward our city and our schools may really be happening, because Snyder doesn’t even need to hide those intentions anymore. No more need for cover of darkness when the light of day will do just fine. Snyder’s plan to ‘save’ Detroit Public Schools, meaning to supposedly improve education for Detroit’s schoolchildren while wiping out the massive debt that persists even as the DPS plantation is now being overseen by its fourth emergency manager, is essentially to dissolve the concept of public schools altogether in Detroit. According to his plan that was made public two days ago:
The old company — the existing DPS — would serve only to pay off the district’s debt. It would do that by directing the 18 mills the district collects from a non-homestead tax to a fund that will steadily erase the debt load.
The new entity will focus solely on educating the 47,000 students who attend DPS. The structure will be similar to that in the Highland Park and Muskegon Heights school districts, which emergency managers converted to charter school districts as a way to separate the debt from the new districts.
But because charter schools can’t levy millages under state law, the old school districts have to remain in place as an institution to collect taxes and transfer the revenue to debt payments.
Because of the political realities in Detroit, Snyder would most likely have to label the arrangement in Detroit something different than an all-charter district. Rather, he would likely call it a Local Education Agency, or LEA, that will maintain some form of the Detroit Public Schools name, but little of its institutional structure.
Now that there has been some pushback, Snyder has suddenly decided to put it on ice for a minute until he can figure a better way to package the deal, but that hardly means he is backing away from his dream for a DPS plantation. What Snyder also proposes to do, and what was addressed at the DPS School Board meeting on Thursday evening by the embattled and understandably outraged publicly elected Detroit Board of Education, is to shove the School Board out on the same ice flow with the ‘old company’, away from having anything to do with the students and safely smothered by the Emergency Manager who would still be in control of their every limited move.
Meanwhile, Snyder proposes that he and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan will appoint a brand new board to oversee the half of the school system that is actually involved in educating children. This is nothing short of a shell game, and at Thursday’s meeting, Board member LaMar Lemmons spoke for the majority of the board when he spoke to the audience members present insisting that what they want is to be “made whole” and be allowed to do the job they were elected to do by the people of Detroit. As it stands now, Board member Elena Herrada frequently refers to the elected board as the School Board in Exile because all their powers and privileges have been stripped away to the point where they have even had to fight with the EM for a place to hold their meetings, sometimes even being barred from their own DPS administration building. This is something I have witnessed with my own eyes.
Currently the parents of Detroit’s children have no say-so over the education of their own children, a perverse system that is chopped up into three entities, none of them overseen by publicly-elected leadership; the charter schools, Emergency Manager #4 Darnell Early, and the badly-flawed and scandal-ridden Educational Achievement Authority, another shining example of Gov. Snyder’s incompetence when it comes to how to fix DPS. What Snyder is proposing, unless he is forced to walk it back, is to remove Detroit Public Schools from local accountability. And no, I’m sorry, but allowing Mayor Duggan to join with him in appointing their own choices for a separate school board does not count as local accountability. Local accountability is when we get what all the other less dark-skinned school districts are getting in the State of Michigan; the respect of our right to vote and the respect for our right to vote for and elect our own school board members in the City of Detroit.
This is not a plantation, Gov. Snyder. That big front porch has got you confused.
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Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.