“The OP-ED Rep. Tim Kelly should have written”

“The OP-ED Rep. Tim Kelly should have written”

By Jeff Salisbury https://misterjournalism.wordpress.com/

Although it’s a distant second in potential price tag, the situation involving a possible financial bailout of the Michigan Department of Treasury’s Schools of Detroit (MTSD) is no less important than the road funding package for our state’s future.

It’s awful to make that comparison, but the fact that MTSD is seeking $715 million to resolve its financial issues – on the heels of the recent $1.2 billion road funding proposal – shows that there are many important issues left to resolve in the state Legislature. My question when considering the situation with MTSD is:

When does throwing money at the problems clearly created by the 1999 takeover of the Detroit Public Schools end, with no true changes being made?

Recently, I took my position as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and listened to the troubling financial details from the state Department of Treasury and the current MTSD emergency manager. I guess it would be disingenuous of me to say so, since I was there at the beginning back in 1999, but honestly I was kind of stunned and disappointed to hear so many concerns involving our State takeover of the state’s largest school district.

One of the most significant details shared by state treasurer Nick Kouri was that pretty much for all these years the Michigan Department of Treasury has not been, on behalf of the MTSD, properly funding the pension system for its employees, resuming it only recently to prevent interruption of state money going to MTSD. Worse yet, there’s still an estimated $157 million dollars in promised pensions that is unfunded by the MTSD.

There’s also approximately $47 million in vendor payments over 90 days past-due, contributing to even more penalties and debt. Piled on to that it seems the MTSD’s current financial year is operating at a $45 million deficit and that despite cutting staff and closing many schools since 1999 by the State of Michigan’s Emergency Management.

Khouri estimated $515 million will be needed to retire the district’s current debt, with current MTSD emergency manager Darnell Earley seeking an additional $200 million for system start-up, facilities and other infrastructure to start a new district, continuing the education of approximately 47,000 students in the MTSD.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the state has less than a year to act – maybe as little as six months – before the MTSD runs out of cash.

So there were many questions that came to mind during the 90-minute subcommittee meeting and here’s perhaps the most significant – what does this money do to change or improve things? Specifically, if MTSD gets its needed $715 million, what does that change at DPS? What does that do to improve education in the MTSD?

Recent history, at least since 1999 when I came to work for then-Governor John Engler as his education policy adviser, tells us it changes little, if anything.

Last week’s open and public presentation on the MTSD mess we all made was merely the initial discussion on this current financial situation. This is, however, a problem of our own making has been ongoing for parts of three decades and through numerous emergency managers who may have merely kept MTSD going, but can no longer delay the inevitable.

What I won’t do is insult your intelligence by asking you readers a series of silly rhetorical questions because it’s time for answers and not more questions.

What we’ve done since 1999 extends to education across the state, which will likely suffer to help offset MTSD’s issues.

Clearly this money should be allocated, since the revenue will improve the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System for all schools.

So long as the money does not come from the School Aid Fund, doing so should not negatively impact the educational opportunity for all Michigan students because it will not increase the number of school districts in financial debt.

Nor should the repayment negatively impact the core competencies for our younger students because in fact it very well could mean the start of an educational turnaround in the MTSD.

It’s been said, that throwing money at a problem rarely resolves the issue. However we all know that’s ridiculous. All we need consider is that’s precisely what we do when an Act of God or other so-called natural or even man-made disaster occurs. The State and/or Federal government declares a state and/or national disaster.

That is what we have to stop, the 16-year, man-made un-natural disaster that’s been perpetrated by the State of Michigan when it involves continually needy MTSD and affects all of our students and their parents and the citizens of the City of Detroit since 1999. That all has to stop.

NOTE: Rep. Tim Kelly is the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and a member of the House Committee on Education and his original op-ed first appeared at this link – http://www.mlive.com/opinion/saginaw/index.ssf/2015/11/real_change_should_accompany_s.html