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Lawmakers start hearings on Detroit Public School bills; Snyder to "review" firing Earley

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

State lawmakers start hearings this week on Gov. Snyder’s plan to prevent the collapse of the Detroit Public Schools.

Lansing’s discussions start as the city of Detroit released another round of safety and health inspectionsof some of the district’s crumbling school buildings this past weekend.

And they start exactly a week after the Detroit Federation of Teachers, aided by its national parent union and some DPS parents, announced it was suing the state-run district and emergency manager Darnell Earley over its crumbling “fiscal and building conditions.”

The bills, sponsored by State Senator Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, provide for a bankruptcy-style restructuring that would split the current district in two — an “old” DPS that would exist solely to keep paying off the district’s long-term debts, and a new “community district” that would actually educate children.

Despite the district’s increasingly precarious finances—it’s expected to run out of cash before the end of the school year—the bills face an uphill battle in the Legislature.

That’s because they call for more than $700 million to pay off $515 million of the district’s current operating debt, plus about $200 million in start-up funds for the “community district.” But they don’t say where that money will come from.

Dave Murray, a spokesman for Gov. Snyder, said the Governor feels a “great sense of urgency” about the district’s situation.

Snyder is urging the bills “be approved quickly to provide an infusion of resources into the classroom,” said Murray, while adding that finding a source for the needed money is “something for the Legislature to determine.”

Creating an “appropriately funded capital plan to bring schools up to 21st-century standards” is one demand of the lawsuit filed by the DFT.

Another demand: that Earley be removed as the DPS emergency manager, and the district restored to local control after nearly seven years of being run by the state.

Earley is especially controversial right now. He was the emergency manager of Flint when that city decided to start drawing drinking water from the Flint River—the beginning of the ongoing water contamination crisis there.

“Right now, Darnell Earley needs to leave,” said DFT attorney Bob Fetter. “And that’s what we’re asking for. If we have to challenge the entire EM statute to be able to do that, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray declined comment on whether the governor’s office believes courts have the legal authority to remove an EM, saying it would be “inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.”

As for Earley’s removal, Murray said: “The governor is focused on long-term solutions to improve education for Detroit Public School students and has been working closely with the Legislature to accomplish that goal. He is happy to review the recommendations of the Legislative Black Caucus as part of that bipartisan cooperation.”

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus formally asked Snyder to fire Earley Friday.

The State Senate's Committee on Government Operations begin DPS hearings Thursday. They're expected to continue through the following week.

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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