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"Last" DPS emergency manager, a familiar face, meets with teachers

DPS emergency manager Steven Rhodes.
John Meiu
Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC

It’s all but official: Steven Rhodes will take over as the next emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools, the fifth in not quite seven years.

Rhodes is the former federal judge who managed the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy case.

He met with DPS teachers and other employees at Detroit’s Cass Tech high school late Wednesday.

“Judge Rhodes talked about how he didn’t want to be an emergency manager, but by state law that’s the title he has. And that he was going to be the last emergency manager, and help 'transition' to the new district," said Patti McCoin, a sixth-grade teacher at Detroit's Clippert Academy.

But McCoin said Rhodes warned that “transition” won’t happen unless Lansing passes a restructuring plan for the near-bankrupt district, which is set to run out of cash within weeks.

He urged DPS employees to support a state Senate plan that provides for a bankruptcy-style restructuring that would break up the “old” district — which would continue to exist only to pay off debt — and spin off a “new” district, which would actually educate students.

McCoin said the meeting came off as at least partially a “sales pitch” for that legislation, and that Rhodes couldn’t provide many answers to specific questions about how schools would operate in the meantime.

McCoin said many teachers went into the meeting feeling confused and frustrated about the district's uncertain future, and many left feeling the same way. “It felt like I was there so that he could say ‘I met with the employees and I’m listening to their voices.’ Like a checklist,” she said.

Rhodes also mentioned a larger “transition team” that hasn’t yet been finalized. But Skillman Foundation CEO Tonya Allen has been widely discussed as a likely member of that team.

Dorothea Williams, an English at Cass Tech, said Allen met with teachers last week, telling them she didn’t want to take on the job without their blessing.

“She seemed knowledgeable, had more ideas on how to restructure than the judge [Rhodes], but many don’t trust her,” Williams said.

As for Rhodes, Williams said: “He just didn’t provide insight into how his ideas would be implemented. The overwhelming majority of the people I talked to wonders if he knows what he’s getting into.”

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is pushing for at least one more person, a career educator, to serve on the transition team.

Gov. Snyder’s office hasn’t yet officially announced a replacement for current DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley, who’s stepping down Feb. 29.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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