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Coalition renews call for action to fix Detroit school system

Jan 13, 2016

Credit Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A coalition of business and community leaders continues to push for reform and repair of Detroit's education system.

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children's co-chairs held a press conference today to discuss the current state of the Detroit education landscape, and to renew a call for action to lawmakers.

Last year, the State Board of Education supported the coalition's recommendations to return the schools to local control, reduce debt, and improve quality control. Coalition members say they consulted with the mayor, governor, and legislature to create the proposal.

The group says it has been nine months since the governor adopted 85% of their recommendations, but they have not seen any further action by lawmakers.

Tonya Allen is president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. She says some legislators have made it clear that that the coalition's recommendations are not a priority.

"And it is unacceptable to us for anyone to say that Detroit's children are not a priority in the state of Michigan," Allen said.

She believes much of the delay can be blamed on partisanship and special interests.

"The challenge with all of this is that we have very few people who are advocating for children in Lansing without these special interests," Allen said.

Walbridge construction company CEO, John Rakolta, says he doesn't believe there is an easy financial fix available. The district is currently facing over $3.5 billion in outstanding debt.

"The district will soon enough run out of money, and the state will not be able to backfill the way they have over the past decade with creative financing," Rakolta said. "And then the real crisis – if we don't already have one – will be right in front of us."

Angela Reyes of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation says systemic changes need to be made. 

"There's always a resistance to changing things systemically," Reyes said.

Dozens of DPS schools were closed this week due to teachers protesting pay, deplorable conditions in the schools, and turmoil in the district.

"Normally we would say that this is not acceptable, but I think we can all agree that these are not normal times and this is not a normal situation," Reyes said.

She says "desperate times call for desperate measures."

The coalition is now working on a set of announcements that will look at how collaborations can help fix the problems.

The emergency manager in charge of Detroit Public Schools ran Flint at the time the city switched its drinking water source to the Flint River. That move proved disastrous.

"We're really asking them to take another look at this; we need them to act on it," Allen said. "We cannot have the same kind of lack of action that happened in Flint to happen in Detroit."

- Paulette Parker, Michigan Radio Newsroom