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Duggan aims for bigger mayoral role in Detroit schools overhaul, calls for end to EAA

City of Detroit

As Lansing gears up to debate a radical reorganization of Detroit schools, Mayor Mike Duggan is pushing for a larger role in the city’s future education system.

Duggan outlined his vision for a complete education overhaul earlier this year.

It shares the same basic structure as Gov. Snyder’s proposal for Detroit schools, but differs on a few key points.

Both call for a bankruptcy-style restructuring — without the actual bankruptcy filing — that would split the Detroit Public Schools into “old” and “new” districts.

The “old” division would exist solely to pay off the roughly $500 million in operating debt that DPS has run up under state-appointed emergency managers since 2009. The “new” division would actually operate the 100 remaining DPS schools.

Duggan says no one argues with the fact that the state has a “legal obligation” to assume the cost of that debt. However, this plan would effectively require other Michigan school districts to subsidize the “new” DPS. That’s an idea many Republican lawmakers don’t care for.

Duggan and Snyder also both call for a new Detroit Education Commission with broad powers to coordinate logistics and set standards for all Detroit schools, to ensure a “level playing field between the public schools and the charters,” Duggan said.

But Duggan wants to appoint all the education commission members himself. He also wants to re-empower the elected DPS school board much more than Snyder, though still only to a limited extent.

That’s a dicey proposal for some Detroit lawmakers and other Democrats. They want Detroiters to re-gain full local control of their schools, and many see the old/new district idea as a final step toward the slow, purposeful dismantling of DPS.

As Snyder prepares to introduce a version of his plan, Duggan is becoming more vocal about a stronger mayoral role — despite his past repeated statements that wants nothing to do with running Detroit schools.

“We’re trying to convince (Gov. Snyder) that local control and an elected school board, and local control in appointment of the education commission, is more appropriate,” he said.

In a new twist, Duggan is also now calling for an end to the Education Achievement Authority.

The EAA had been Snyder’s main education initiative, an effort to create a “reform district” for the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it stalled after absorbing just 15 former DPS schools, was never authorized by the state legislature, and is now widely seen as a botched experiment that further destabilized Detroit schools.

Duggan is no stranger to the EAA. He served as a Snyder appointee on the system’s board, before resigning in 2013 while running for mayor.

Now, Duggan thinks it’s time to call it quits altogether. “I’ve always thought that the EAA needs to be rolled back into the Detroit Public Schools,” he said. “And I think now is a natural time to do it. We’ll see whether that idea gets any traction.”

However, Duggan told the Detroit Free Press he wouldn’t mind having current EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme head the proposed Education Commission.

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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