LANSING — State Representative Fred Durhal (D-Detroit) spoke out yesterday in the House Appropriations Committee against Republican proposals to alter the language of Senate Bill 711 and revive discussions of the Financial Review Commission (FRC) appointing the district superintendent. SB 711 is one in a package of bills meant to address some of the issues facing Detroit Public Schools (DPS).
“This has been a mess from start to finish,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Durhal. “The fact of the matter is that this legislation makes it seem like there is no interest in solving the long-term problems DPS is facing. Our children, parents and teachers deserve better, and not a temporary fix. We don’t want to be in a position where we have to keep revisiting this every few weeks or months, but that is inevitable because at this point we’re trying to legislate the symptoms and not address the root cause of the problem. We need to work together and keep fighting until the real issues at the heart of this district are addressed.”
House Bill 5385 passed the House in March of this year, and included language which would allow the new FRC — which is fiscal in nature — to appoint the new district superintendent, an academic position. Despite House Democrats’ attempts to strike this language, the bill passed and headed to the Senate. There, the language was altered to instead allow the FRC to appoint the chief financial officer of the district, a level of oversight more suited to its role as a financial body. This provision passed the Senate and was returned to the House, where it the new version of the bill was approved. It was then signed by the governor. Now, despite the matter being settled, House Republicans have attempted to reinsert the superintendent appointment, leaving many fellow legislators frustrated over the resurrection of a settled issue. Rep. Durhal proposed two amendments that would bar such provisional language from both SB 711 and House Bill 5384, another DPS bill, where the Republicans are also attempting to insert it. Both amendments were defeated.
“Instead of addressing the immediate needs of DPS and its teachers, we keep having conversations about the minutiae of legislation that will not go into effect until weeks or even months down the road,” said Durhal. “The problems in DPS grew to a critical mass after the state took control of the district, yet we’re doing nothing to address immediate needs. We’ve known since January that the district buildings were falling apart around the kids, and we’ve done nothing. We learned that one contractor was responsible for bribing numerous DPS administrators and cornering the market on school supplies, and we’ve done nothing. And now we’ve learned that two-thirds of DPS teachers have lost 15 percent of this year’s pay, thanks to decisions made by the emergency manager. These are the issues that should be our focus — not how to further placate special interests by giving more power to an appointed commission that they lobbied into existence.”