Hearings Begin on Detroit Public Schools Legislation

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, Feb. 10, 2016

The Senate Committee on Government Relations has begun hearings on Senate Bills 710 and 711, which address Detroit Public Schools.

SB 710 is the main bill and includes a provision to divide the district into two. The first would be the original Detroit Public Schools and would simply exist to pay off debt from the 18 mils it collects. Once the debt is paid off, the old DPS would be dissolved. The second would be the new Detroit Community Schools, which would take over the functions of the district and start out debt free.

SB 711 would allow a financial review commission to have fiscal oversight of a qualified school district. The FRC would review all budgets and contracts to make sure they are fiscally sound and will oversee the district decisions until it has operating budgets that we are not in deficit for at least three years in a row.

The Committee has held two hearings so far. The bill sponsor, Governor’s office, Detroit Mayor, State Superintendent, Skillman Foundation, Students First, AFT Michigan, and various parents, teachers and administrators have testified. We also expect five more bills to be introduced soon. The bills will deal with the funding to pay off the debt and create ways to refinance the debt among other technical changes needed to establish a new district.

While the bill sponsor and Governor’s office focused on the exact content of the bills and the need for action, Mayor Mike Duggan urged a “single point of accountability.” He said that without the powers of a Detroit Education Commission to oversee the placement and use of schools in the city, the new district would face the same enrollment and financial issues that plague the current district. The bills right now do not include this provision.

Parents and teachers have focused on the condition of schools within the district and the need to address all of the barriers to learning for DPS students. They have mostly agreed with the Mayor about the need for an oversight commission to regulate the placement of schools within the DPS borders.

At least one more hearing on the bills is expected. MASB anticipates testifying at the next hearing to the importance of an elected board and returning the district to local control. We will continue to keep you updated through News From the Capitol and DashBoard.

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