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Detroit parents disappointed and angered by DPS reform bills

Jun 9, 2016

Students in a school in the Detroit Public School district.
Credit Detroit Public Schools

Wytrice Harris is disheartened.

The mother of twins, sophomores at Detroit's Renaissance High, has been working to improve conditions in the district for two years. She hoped for much more from legislation designed to save and reform the city's nearly-bankrupt school system.

"They're just going to prolong the death of DPS," she says flatly.

The legislation includes $617 million in funding to split the district in two. One district will deal with paying off debt, and the other will handle day-to-day operations. 

But the legislation failed to include a commission to control where new charter schools set up shop. 

"Because right now we have whole neighborhoods that don't have the schools that they need," says Harris, "and some neighborhoods that have way too much, but right now charters can come in and open whenever wherever they want."

Harris was also upset by measures that would financially penalize teachers for engaging in sickouts, and which establish merit pay. She says that will chase good teachers away from the district. And she says it's not fair to allow uncertified teachers in classrooms in Detroit, but nowhere else.

Derek Anderson, a parent advocate and father of a soon-to-graduate senior, says he is trying to be optimistic about the bills.

"It would be probably irresponsible to say that it's going to be a failure," says Anderson, "because any help that we can get truly is needed. I'm prayerful."

But Anderson also is troubled by the lack of a commission, while admitting to "mixed feelings," about punishing teachers for taking part in sickouts. The sickouts made it harder for his son to graduate, he says, but at the same time, it seemed the only way for teachers to have their voices heard.

Anderson also thinks parents need to step up their game and make the new district work, in spite of the deficiencies of the bills.

"Parents need to get empowered, they need to get more involved and they need to do a lot better job raising their children," says Anderson. "If children would come to school prepared to learn, a lot of our problems would disappear."

The bills were also a disappointment to the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, which issued this statement:

The Coalition maintains that the legislation provides only partial relief to a troubled Detroit schools landscape, and does little to correct the conditions that have led to the financial and academic crisis of Detroit Public Schools. Nevertheless, the diverse group of Detroit leaders remain unwaveringly committed to improving the city’s schools – in both charter and district sectors.