Senate approves bipartisan DPS reform bills

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Tuesday passed a bipartisan package of bills that would provide a fresh start for the more than 47,000 Detroit public schoolchildren who are part of a district that is among the worst in the nation.

Senate Bills 710, 711, 820 and 821, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, and SBs 819 and 822, sponsored by Sen. David Knezek, D–Dearborn Heights, would create a new Detroit Community District (DCD) to assume the operations of the current Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The new district would operate the schools, and the current Detroit Public Schools district would remain only for the purpose of levying taxes and retiring the district’s debt.

“Students in Detroit deserve to go to school every day knowing they will be safe and knowing their teachers are there waiting to help them learn,” Hansen said. “Unfortunately this too often is not the case. This legislation will give schoolchildren the hope of a new start, with a renewed focus on academic standards that will help them achieve success.”

Under Hansen’s bills, $1,100 per student will be put back into the classroom, instead of paying for debt. The debt load for the DPS, including operating debt, capital debt, unpaid pension and retirement obligations (MPSERS), and proposed transitional operating costs, is expected to be more than $2.25 billion.

Operational responsibilities and assets would be transferred to the Detroit Community District as of July 1, 2016. The DCD would be governed by a nine-member board — seven members elected by city electoral districts and two members elected at large.

Board elections would take place in August 2016 with the elected members taking office following certification of the election. Until the elected board takes office, the DCD would be governed by a transitional manager appointed by the governor.

Some other features of the legislation:
•    A financial review commission (FRC) would oversee the finances of the Detroit Community District, including approval of budgets and contracts;
•    The elected board of the DCD would appoint a superintendent;
•    For a period of five years (subject to one extension), a seven-member education commission appointed by the mayor would develop siting recommendations and oversee the opening of new schools. The commission would include three charter school representatives, three traditional school representatives, and one education expert. High-performing schools would be able to replicate freely without education commission oversight; other schools would have to obtain siting approval from the education commission prior to opening a new school; and
•    The state school reform/redesign officer, with the consultation of the education commission, would develop and implement a local accountability system, assigning letter grades to all public schools in the district. Persistently underperforming schools would be closed or subject to intervention.

Hansen noted that Detroit’s student population continues to decline, student achievement continues to underperform, and graduation rates lag behind state and national averages.

He said that Michigan cannot reach its full potential without a healthy, vibrant Detroit, and that a healthy Detroit must include functioning schools that deliver the same standards that other students receive.

“We have failed the students of Detroit for too long. Now is the time for solutions,” Hansen said. “While these bills alone may not transform DPS, they are critically necessary to begin putting this district on a more sound footing, both financially and educationally.

“The passage of this bipartisan reform package is a victory for the children of Detroit and the next step in ensuring that this crisis is resolved. This legislation will establish stringent academic standards and strict financial measures in the city’s public school system. That is our goal in this legislative process.

“I’m committed to working with my colleagues in the days ahead to refine a Detroit education proposal that ensures strong, thriving public schools in the city.”

SBs 710, 711, and 819 – 822 now head to the Michigan House for further consideration.

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Photo caption: Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, speaks to reporters on the Senate floor after the Senate passed Senate Bills 710, 711, and 819 – 822, measures that would reform Detroit’s public schools. Hansen is the lead sponsor of the legislative package designed to provide a fresh start for the more than 47,000 Detroit public schoolchildren who are part of a district that is among the worst in the nation.