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Coalition co-chair says they're not asking for a bailout, but an investment

Mar 31, 2015

Credit flickr user Ben W

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren released its recommendations for fixing the fractured system of educating Detroit's kids.

The 36-member panel of community leaders spent three months studying the many problems in Detroit's schools.

Their recommendations include ending state emergency management, shutting Education Achievement Authority Schools and giving them back to the Detroit Public Schools, transferring $350-million in debt to the state and setting up a commission appointed by Detroit's mayor to decide school openings and closings.

The coalition "wants to make sure Detroiters have a say in who is running their schools," says Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation and co-chair of the coalition.

Allen says right now the city has little power with an emergency manager in place. This is the district's fourth emergency manager in six years and the state has been in control for 12 of the last 15 years.

The proposed role for the mayor, Allen says, comes from the need for someone who is unbiased who will push for high standards for students' best interests, whether they go to charter schools or public schools.

Gov. Rick Snyder has said he is open to a deal for the state to assume the district's debt, as well as being open to similar arrangements for other districts across the state.

Allen is happy to hear this, but not surprised. While DPS has been getting a lot of attention, she says it's a statewide problem.

"Most traditional districts in the state of Michigan are shrinking. We have to figure out how we thoughtfully help schools in this state shrink responsibly," says Allen.

While Gov. Snyder has showed interest in the coalition's propositions, State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R- St. Clair Township, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has said their ideas would simply be going back to the "old way of business."

But Allen disagrees. "We're not asking to go to the old way. We're asking for improvement, we're asking to stabilize an environment that has been completely destabilized by state policy."

She says, "I think it is disingenuous to point fingers and suggest that Detroiters weren't doing a good job when the state has done a worse job than us."

Allen also stresses that DPS has had increased pressure put on it as more charter schools enter the area. According to Allen, charter schools are not required to pay into the state retirement system, leaving the burden to the shrinking public schools.

"Many people think that what we're asking for is a bailout. Absolutely not. We're asking for an investment and we're also asking for the state to be responsible for what it's created," Allen says.