House Passes Revised Proposal for Detroit Public Schools, Senate Still Considering

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, June 8, 2016

Last week, the House made changes to its originally passed legislation to provide financial assistance and reforms for Detroit Public Schools.  Once again, it took hours to get the votes pulled together and debate on the package didn’t begin until 7:30 p.m. Thursday.  The main bill in the package, House Bill 5384, passed with the bare minimum number of votes needed, 55-53.

The bill was amended to allow the school board to be elected at the next possible date, November 2016, and would consist of seven members elected at-large.  It also gave the power to hire the superintendent back to the board, however the firing of the superintendent would have to be approved by the Financial Review Commission.

The proposal still includes many of the same concerns that were raised last month when this package passed.  It does not include a body that would help with the placement of schools within the district boundaries to give some stability to student population for both Detroit Schools and the charter schools.  It does create an advisory board which would issue an annual report on the siting and usage of buildings within the district, however it only requires the school district to consider the report when opening or closing schools, not any of the public school academies or their authorizers.

The package also directs the School Reform Office to create an “A-F” accountability system and requires it to close any building that receives an “F” grade for three years or is in the lowest 5% for three years.  We oppose the expansion of powers of the SRO, especially in creating an accountability system.  The system should not be created by the same entity that acts on it, nor is the SRO designed to create such a system.

On Tuesday, the Senate Fiscal Agency reported that the House-passed version of the bill does not include enough funding to pay off the debt and would cost the School Aid Fund $88 million to fill the hole.  The House bill caps the funds that can be used out of the Tobacco Settlement Fund, creating the difference in the appropriation and the actual costs to pay off the debt.

The Senate appears to have concerns with how far the package has strayed from what they passed earlier this spring and the latest news that the House package does not appropriate enough money.  As of end of day Tuesday, the Senate did not have the votes to pass the House version so the discussions continue.

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