Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mayor Mike Duggan: Return Detroit schools to Detroiters

Mayor Mike Duggan: Return Detroit schools to Detroiters:

Duggan: Return Detroit schools to Detroiters



There's no shortage of plans to restructure Detroit's schools, but until now we hadn't heard definitively from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the public official most directly accountable to Detroiters.
That changed Wednesday night at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference,when Duggan laid out a plan for education in the city that combines elements of Gov. Rick Snyder's Detroit schools plan and one created by a coalition of civic, business and labor leaders.
Snyder wants to split Detroit Public Schools; the new district would educate kids, and the old district would use the existing operating millage to satisfy $483 million in debt. Snyder's plan would see an appointed board lead the new district, transitioning to an elected board through 2021.
The coalition, which doesn't propose a split, wants to return control to DPS's current elected board, but it set no timetable for that to happen, and coalition members acknowledged that they didn't see a practical way to restore democratic control immediately.
Both say the state bears responsibility for DPS debt, incurred during the 15 years the district has been under state control.
On Wednesday, Duggan gave full-throated support to Snyder's "old co./new co." split, and laid the blame for the district's debt squarely on the state. But beyond that, the mayor articulated a more elegant defense for immediate return of democratic control to Detroit's schools than had surfaced before.
If the governor's phased-in return of the school board were embraced, Duggan said, it would provide candidates an easy campaign foil — not for schools, but against state control. That's the wrong kind of candidate to lead Detroit forward.
Instead, elect a new school board, for the new district, next spring, and see the city's best and brightest turn out to help move the city forward — a personal call to action the city's best and brightest are unlikely to ignore.
That's a gamble, given the horrific history of incompetence and malfeasance that, at least in part, led to the decline of governance in Detroit's public schools. But for those of us uncomfortable with the notion that Detroit, among all the districts in the state, should forfeit its right to local control, a democratic voice in something as integral to a community's future as education, it's an answer to concerns about disenfranchisement.
Duggan has issued a challenge; we hope Detroit's best and brightest are ready to respond.
Because the new district's board must stay within strict spending constraints, Duggan suggested installing a financial review board, comparable to the one that supervises finances after the city's bankruptcy. It's a measure of accountability that should quell Lansing's fears about Detroit intransigence.
Duggan also endorsed the idea of an education commissioner, a kind of air traffic controller who OKs school openings and closings, ensuring all parts of the city are well served by quality schools.
Almost as important, Duggan made a compelling case to the affluent business crowd at Mackinac that they must see a personal stake in Detroit's children: "We're going to get this done if the people in this room decide they're not Detroit's kids, they're everybody's kids." It's a simple truth we're glad Duggan embraced. Michigan can't succeed without Detroit's kids.
Duggan's voice matters here, at least as much as the coalition's or the governor's, in part because of the other work he is doing in the city. His effort to save neighborhoods through blight removal and streetlight restoration all depend on making the city a more rational choice for middle-class and even impoverished families.
That's about fixing the schools, yes. But it's also about respecting the democratic voice that Michigan law bestows on citizens in local school districts.
Duggan's reform is a call for a return to normalcy, an encouragement to fix the damage done to Detroit's schools, and identify the path that will make them better. The governor and the Legislature should give him their full attention.Mayor Mike Duggan: Return Detroit schools to Detroiters:

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