(Photo: John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Last week a group of Detroiters opposed to Michigan’s emergency manager law went to Ann Arbor to demonstrate at the elegant home of Detroit Public Schools’ latest emergency manager, retired Judge Steven Rhodes.
Rhodes (pictured above) was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder as the district’s fifth EM since 2009.
Like other failed EMs before him, Rhodes has promised each Detroit student the best education possible. He has also been told to reduce the DPS operating debt that tripled under the previous four EMs. Rhodes appointed a longtime DPS employee with a background as a science teacher to lead academics for the beleaguered district: Alycia Meriweather.
The buzz phrase of the moment is “local control.” However, to Snyder, Rhodes and their buddies in the Legislature, there is nothing local about it. They’ve twisted local control to mean they will appoint people from an area they control.
So, even though the current DPS Board of Education was elected by Detroit’s residents, under EMs they aren’t allowed to run the district. Further, to EMs, residents do not get jurisdiction over what they own. Detroiters witnessed this when 15 of their newest schools were stolen by a previous EM and given to Snyder’s now discredited Education Achievement Authority. The EAA was the governor’s attempt to create his own school district, which sadly ended up reducing rather than raising education levels.
Meriweather could well be a fine person, but the fact remains she wasn’t chosen to head DPS by the elected school board, which is something every other district gets to do.
Rhodes wants to lower the DPS operating debt. And he knew that by the beginning of April there would be no salaries for Detroit teachers and more sickouts; but the Legislature passed emergency funding for the district. Almost all DPS schools have closed in rolling sickouts since December by teachers protesting the horrible state school buildings are in: mold, falling ceilings, vermin, no heat and lack of books and supplies.
In the meantime, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has been eyeing a takeover of the schools. While publicly dismissing the notion, he has nevertheless been pushing for a Snyder-proposed Detroit Education Commission that would be the arbiter of which Detroit schools close and which stay open.
Duggan was also on the EAA board for two years, apparently looking the other way while students suffered at the hands of unqualified leadership. Duggan will get to pay back his supporters by naming the members of the DEC.
No state official, except for the elected DPS board and an occasional legislator, is willing to speak out against the EM law, which permits no public accountability, transparency or oversight of anything EMs do. We see what happens without these conditions in place; poisoned water in Flint and decreased test scores in Detroit. Bondholders and bankers are the only ones protected under the EM law.
Marianne McGuire is a former member of the Michigan State Board of Education. Elizabeth Lenhard is a former member of the Warren Woods Board of Education