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House Passes DPS Legislation

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, May 11, 2016

After a 15-hour marathon session that started last Wednesday, the House passed its version of the Detroit Public Schools legislation early Thursday morning. The main bill, House Bill 5384, was passed by a vote of 57-51 with six Republicans joining with all Democrats in opposition. MASB does not support the House-passed version as it does not address any of the concerns we raised in testimony, and includes many reforms that will not help DPS succeed. Following, we break down some of the details of the House-passed proposal:

Structure

The package, HBs 5382, 5383, 5384 and 5387 and Senate Bills 711, 820 and 822, still creates a new school district while keeping the current one solely to pay off the debt. The recommendation to use tobacco settlement dollars that are received by the state each year to pay approximately $72 million a year toward the debt also remains from the original proposal, but now these payments are capped at a total of $500 million. The bills do allow for some leeway under the Emergency Municipal Loan Act for DPS to restructure its debt, as well as $250,000 for startup costs for the new district.

Board/Superintendent

The new district would be created within 30 days after the bill is signed into law, but an elected board would not take office until January 2018. The bills create an appointed board with two members selected by the Mayor and five members chosen by the Governor. It also requires the Financial Review Commission to approve the hiring of a superintendent and, if they do not act within 45 days of the board making a recommendation, the appointment is denied. Once a contract with the superintendent is signed, it cannot be altered without FRC approval. The superintendent and board chairperson may be added to the FRC, but would not have the same voting powers as other members of the commission.

Education Commission

The House plan also does not include an education commission to oversee the siting of all public schools within DPS borders. Without this oversight, the new district would face the same enrollment and financial issues that plague the current one.

Finances

Under the House proposal, all administrative costs would be capped at 6.3% of current operating expenses and no out-of-state travel would be permitted for an employee, official or school board member of the district. The State Treasurer would be required to monitor the district’s finances to ensure compliance with these two items.

Performance

If a school within the boundaries of the district has been open for at least four years and was on the lowest performing list for three of five years, the State School Reform/Redesign Office would put them on a list to be closed. Thirty days after the list is published, the SRO would issue an order to close the school. The SRO could take into account if closing the school would create a hardship for students and rescind the order.

Contracts/Staffing

HB 5387 amends the strike law to say that if a public school employer does not take steps to allow an investigation into conditions that constitute a strike, a parent may do so instead. The bills also state that a current collective bargaining agreement would not transfer to the new district, nor would the new district be considered the “successor employer.”

The bills also require a compensation system based on performance and student achievement, otherwise known as “merit pay.” Length of service or advanced degrees would not be allowed to be considered except under very specific circumstances.

Finally, the bills allow for noncertified, unendorsed teachers to be hired based upon education and experience alone. This provision would only apply to the new district. While the argument for this is to get more teachers in the classrooms, putting in place teachers who are not properly certified or trained in classroom management is not fair to the students. Just because a person is an expert in his/her field does not mean s/he can teach it to children. MASB strongly opposes this section—all of our students deserve quality teachers in the classroom.

Next Steps

At this time, the Senate has said it is reviewing the package and we do not know what it will decide to do. It could turn down the bills and send them to a conference committee, or it could continue to work on them on the Senate floor. In any case, we do not expect the Senate to act until next week. There is still a desire among the Senate sponsors to get this done this month. MASB will continue to keep you updated as new information becomes available.

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