Governor's plan to overhaul Detroit schools leads to teacher protest

Hundreds of local teachers rally in Lansing, protesting Gov. Rick Snyder's new plan to overhaul Detroit's failing school system.

So many teachers took part, Detroit Public Schools were forced to cancel classes at 18 schools today.

The plan splits the district in two - with one school system handling education and the second one to pay off old debts. 

Snyder says the plan is not a bailout, he compares it to the grand bargain did for the city of Detroit. 

But not everyone believes it is the best plan for the schools or the children.

"This is a plan to destroy the schools," said teacher Nicole Conaway. "They are saying it explicitly."

Teachers like Conaway wanted to prove that point by calling in sick Thursday leading to school closures.

"Having schools closed today to go protest - I'm not sure how that's helping the kids," Snyder said.

During a press conference, Snyder unveiled the plan which includes a newly named City of Detroit Education District which will operate the school under a seven-member school board made up of Detroit residents. They would be appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan and Snyder.

It would collect the per-pupil funding and focus on the children's education. The existing DPS would be under the direction of the state's emergency manager and current school board with the sole purpose of collecting $72 million generated annually from the millage and pay down the district's $283 million debt. 

"We have an operating debt problem to solve," Snyder said. "And the most important issue is getting better education of the kids in Detroit."

Both districts would be overseen by a financial review board, a Detroit Education Commission focusing on enrollment and an education manager who would oversee academic performance.

But critics like Steve Conn, president of Detroit's Federation of Teachers calls the plan a sham. He claims the state would be collecting tax money from the poor to pay off debt created by state then robbing other districts which could lose as much as $50 per pupil in funding.

"This is wrong," he said. "They are trying to take the money for their rich corporate friends and the people of Detroit aren't having it. Teachers are leading the charge now saying come with us, fight back."

"You look at the debt the school district already owes," Snyder said. "Most of those obligations come back to being a state obligation. Most of those obligations come back to being a state obligation. This is debt that we're backing up in some fashion so we are being more proactive to pay it."

With two-thirds of Detroit students not proficient in reading among other subjects, Snyder says the district has reached a crisis point. 

The blame goes to cuts, corruptions, lack of power by the school board lack of 100,000 students the last decade and multiple emergency managers. 

Snyder says despite previous failures by EMs, it is still an emergency.

"They don't meet the criteria to leave that status," he said. "I think it's appropriate to have an emergency manager and I think Darnell is doing a good job."

"It's just bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy," Conn said.

If all goes according to plan the debt should be paid off in 10 years but first the plan has to be approved by the fall.
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