Emergency Mismanagement

A few days ago, the Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s School Children made waves in the years-long struggle for Detroit Public Schools (DPS) by recommending that DPS dump the Emergency Manager and return the elected Detroit School Board to power. The Coalition’s recommendations come pretty much on the heels of Governor Snyder appointing Darnell Earley as the brand new DPS Emergency Manager.

Among the other changes recommended in the Coalition’s report is that the State of Michigan assume the DPS debt. That would be justice, not charity. DPS had a budget surplus when the state took over back in 1999. Emergency Mismanagement over the years created the current $170 million deficit for basic operations and the accumulated overall debt of more than $2 billion. The debt comes from a variety of factors including loss of per pupil funding charter schools and loss of students due to Emergency Managers failing to right Detroit’s education system.

There are other recommendations from the Coalition and some are bones of contention with those who have been seeking justice for Detroit’s school kids for well over a decade. Among those are a bunch of caveats for returning the elected Board to power. For instance, the Coalition recommends a “Detroit Education Commission,” which would have power over school closings.

Even so, years of struggle to do right by Detroit students and families and to acknowledge voter rights (where are all those folks so concerned with “voter fraud” when voters are robbed of power in broad daylight?) have borne some fruit.

There is no better time to give a shout out to Detroit students who provided leadership in the fight for democracy by protesting Emergency Manager school closings. We should thank and acknowledge Detroit School teachers who fought for smaller class sizes. Even those who waged battles we didn’t win, such as the fight against the closing of the school for teen moms and the fight that emerged when Robert Bobb, the first Emergency Manager, usurped not only the financial decision making but also academic control from the elected school Board. While the dismal record of Governor Snyder’s so called Education Achievement Authority should have been enough for it to be dismantled, we should acknowledge protesters at Eastern Michigan University and elsewhere that spoke out and put more light on this most ill conceived venture.

Clearly, we are not yet out of the woods. While a step in the right direction, the Coalition’s recommendations fall short and even so, they are only recommendations. This is no time to rest on laurels, it is time to stand up with those who have struggled and continue to struggle, a time to prove that people power works and draw more people to the fight of justice. The call for democracy came from the ground up, from Detroit voters and community groups and leaders, and has now reached a place that Governor Snyder can’t ignore. What ever happens with the Coalition report, the best parts of it can be used to draw more voices to the call for justice.