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DPS emergency manager is out this week. What happens next?

Jan 12, 2015

DPS emergency manager Jack Martin, right, canvasses a Detroit neighborhood to boost student enrollment in 2013.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

This is a crucial week for the future of the Detroit Public Schools—and possibly holds a key test for Michigan’s emergency manager law, too.

The school district’s third emergency manager, Jack Martin, is expected to leave this week, after serving in that post for 18 months.

Under Michigan’s revised emergency manager law, elected officials—in this case, the Detroit Board of Education—can remove an emergency manager after that period of time by a 2/3 vote. The board has indicated they intend to do just that.

There’s a possible loophole in the law, though. It’s unclear if Governor Snyder could effectively nullify the board’s vote, and re-set the clock by appointing a new emergency manager, if he acts before Martin’s 18-month term officially expires Thursday.

Board members and some Detroit education activists decry that potential move as a cynical way to skirt the spirit of the law, and appoint an endless series of emergency managers. They maintain the district is worse-off in just about every way after five years of emergency managers.

School board president Herman Davis says the Governor should realize nearly 10 years of state intervention since 1999 hasn’t helped DPS.

“It hasn’t worked in Detroit,” Davis said. “So I’m hoping he’ll return the governance of the system over to the board again.”

Because the district still has a nearly $170 million budget deficit, Public Act 436 is still in effect even if there’s no longer an emergency manager. If the board is successful in ousting Martin and keeping another EM out, it would have 10 days to negotiate a consent agreement with the state; if that fell through, the two sides would enter a “neutral evaluation process.”

Snyder has acknowledged in previous comments that years of state intervention hasn’t “fixed” DPS. However, he’s also indicated distaste for returning power to the elected board.

The Governor’s office has signaled that he will announce his intentions for the district early this week.  

A team working out of that office is also expected to announce a major overhaul targeting DPS, as well as other proposed statewide education reforms, sometime early this year.