Ignoring Detroiters’ Right to Democracy

By Denzel McCampbell

In what looks to be the start of another chapter of ‘relentless unelected action’, Governor Snyder has announced a plan to split DPS into two. During the press conference announcing the plan, the Governor said that his plan looks to take DPS to an “old-co, new-co model”. The ‘old-co’ will contain the school system’s debt, the non-homestead millage to pay off the debt, and the elected Detroit Public Schools’ Board of Education. The ‘new-co’ would contain all of the operating components of a school district: academics, teachers, buildings, etc.

For those who followed the bankruptcy of General Motors, ‘old-co’ and ‘new-co’ may be familiar terminology. When General Motors went through bankruptcy in 2009, there was a lot of news about the splitting of the company into “Old GM” and “New GM”. ‘Old GM’ took on some of the debt, old shareholders, failing business units, and any future litigation, while ‘New GM’ emerged from the bankruptcy with a cleaner slate.

Over the last couple of years Detroit residents have seen this type of corporatism injected into their government, from emergency management of both the city and Detroit Public Schools (DPS) to the largest municipal bankruptcy and now proposed reorganization of DPS. There has been a complete disregard of the people and their right to have a say in their local government with the unwelcome philosophy from the Governor’s office that government can be ran the same as a corporation.

There’s a problem (among others) with that type of thinking though: Our government is how we work together to strengthen our communities; it’s for the people, by the people, and our elected leaders answer to the people. Our government is not a profit-making center nor are our representatives responsible for maximizing a financial bottom-line.

One of the key factors missing from the Governor’s plan is input from the people of Detroit. Detroiters had no say in the plan nor will they have a say in the implementation and operation of the ‘new’ school district.

This plan ignores recommendations from report published by the Coalition for Future Detroit Schoolchildren (CFDS), a report that the Governor said would be the forefront of any plan for the city’s school system. The CFDS, made up of civic, business, and elected leaders from the city of Detroit, recommended the immediate return of governance to the elected Detroit School Board and for the state of Michigan to take responsibility of the district’s debt. Under the Governor’s plan, the Detroit School Board would go away after the debt is paid by the millage and full locally-elected governance would not return until 2021; more than a decade after an unelected emergency manager was appointed by the state.

Citizens deserve to have a say in their school district. It is time to return the DPS to its democratic place in the hands of Detroiters. The Governor should embrace a plan that involves the people of Detroit working together to have the best quality schools for their kids – they deserve a stake in their future.