Detroit Public School Reform Legislation Passes Senate

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, March 23, 2016

On Tuesday, the Senate passed its reform package for Detroit Public Schools. Senate Bills 710 and 819-822 all passed by votes of 21-16; SB 711 passed by a vote of 29-8. The Senate did not debate House Bill 5296, which includes the $48.7 million that DPS will need to stay open through the end of the school year. That money would come from the Tobacco Settlement Fund and not the School Aid Fund. The bill is expected to be voted on yet this week.

Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) made many changes to the originally introduced proposal in SB 710, taking input from stakeholders and senators from both sides of the aisle. These changes address the main concerns MASB raised during its testimony—finding alternative funding sources outside of the School Aid Fund; powers returned to an elected school board soon as possible; the board hiring the superintendent; and a commission to oversee placement of all public schools within the district.

The bills still create a new school district—a community district—while keeping the current DPS solely to pay off the debt. They also use tobacco settlement dollars that are paid to the state each year to pay approximately $72 million a year toward the debt. Those payments are expected to last for about 10 years.

The idea of an interim board was removed from the bill. The new district would be created within 30 days after the bill is signed into law and, if it is done before summer as is hoped, the school board of the new district would be elected during the August election and have 90 days to hire a superintendent. The new board would include nine members and be elected geographically mirroring the wards of the Detroit City Council.

The new district would be under the purview of the Financial Review Commission. The board and superintendent would still set and approve the budget, but it would then be approved by the FRC. This process is the same that the city is under after it came out of bankruptcy. The FRC would not have oversight in the hiring of the superintendent, however, it would have to approve the hiring choice for the Chief Financial Officer of the district.

The revised SB 710 also includes an Education Commission that would oversee the siting of all public schools within DPS borders. It would have to create a report on siting of existing and further public schools within six months after it is established. The Commission would expire after five years unless it is determined that it is effective. This type of oversight will be beneficial to the new district, helping better distribute schools throughout the city, as well as controlling how many schools and stabilizing the student population.

The other bills in the package would do the following:

We are pleased with the changes that were made and will continue to work with the sponsor and now the House to make sure a reasonable package is passed in time to assist the district before the beginning of a new school year. The fate of this proposal in the House is unknown at this time. The House Appropriations Committee is holding more hearings this week on its package. We are hopeful that the Senate will approve the supplemental appropriation to allow DPS to continue to operate through the end of the year. Look for more information in Friday's News From the Capitol.

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