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Detroit teachers put up a lemonade stand to raise money for an audit

May 9, 2016

With the Detroit Public Schools on the verge of financial collapse, many people want to know how things went so wrong.

Some teachers are trying to do something about that. They want a forensic audit of the district’s finances since it came under state emergency management in 2009.

A group of DPS teachers set up a lemonade stand near Detroit’s Eastern Market to raise money for the cause this weekend.

Zachary Sweet, a math teacher at Renaissance High School, admits that at 50 cents a cup—and an audit costing an estimated $500,000—the lemonade stand was as much about raising awareness as money.

“We want the public on our side. The future of our kids is at stake here,” Sweet said.

DPS emergency manager Steven Rhodes has said he welcomes an audit.

But Rhodes says someone else will have to pay for it, because the state won’t and the district doesn’t have the money.

The State House voted down an audit provision as it passed a $515 million DPS aid package last week. Critics say that’s just enough money to pay off the district’s short term debt obligations, and not enough to sustain the district beyond its pending insolvency June 30.

The State Senate has passed a $715 million aid package to enable a bankruptcy-style restructuring of the district, though it doesn’t have a guaranteed funding mechanism in it.

Teacher staged two days of mass sickout protests last week, after discovering the district won’t have enough funds to pay staff that elect to get checks year-round, not just during the school year. That money was supposed to have gone into escrow, and teachers want to know what happened to it.

Sweet said that with the state poised to pay off at least half a billion dollars in Detroit schools’ debt, it might want to guarantee those funds are well-managed.

“We’re a little bit confused as to why the House of Representatives would vote down an audit if they’re voting to send us so many millions of dollars,” Sweet said. “And that’s taxpayer funding from all across the state, not just Detroit.”