By David Eggert & Michael Gerstein, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – Detroit’s debt-ridden school district would receive a $617 million state bailout under a compromise restructuring plan that appears poised for final legislative votes and the governor’s signature after winning narrow approval in the House.READ MORE: Meet These Two Bear Cubs Who Have Become Inseparable At The Detroit Zoo
The ailing district has been managed by the state for seven years, during which it has grappled with plummeting enrollment and more recently teacher sick-out protests. The Republican-led House voted along party lines late Thursday to split the district in two in July, without support from Democrats, not even those in the city.
The new debt-free district would educate students and qualify for $150 million in transition costs to help it stay afloat over the summer, including $25 million to upgrade buildings that have been a source of teacher complaints. The old district would exist solely to collect taxes, retiring $467 million in debt over roughly 8 ½ years.
A school board, to be elected in November, would be given control again while a commission of state appointees would have financial oversight of the new district — a system similar to what is in place for the city after its bankruptcy, when it also received an infusion of state money.
A spokeswoman for GOP Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof called the bills a “realistic compromise,” while Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s spokesman said their approval was “good progress … that can lead to a sustainable and successful education system.”
The Senate could vote as early as Tuesday. Without further action, emergency aid previously approved will run out by June 30.
Democrats assailed the legislation, which does not include a Senate- and Snyder-endorsed commission to make decisions about opening traditional schools and independent, publicly funded charter schools. There instead would be a powerless advisory council to conduct annual reports on the siting of existing and future public schools, building conditions and other issues.
Nearly a third of 113,000 students living in the city attend a charter school in Detroit or surrounding areas, which has prompted criticism that they are being opened largely unchecked, to the detriment of a district with too many schools in some areas and too few elsewhere.
“The reality is that the Republican approach of just throwing money at the Detroit public school system without enacting any of the needed reforms that actually help the district succeed long term is simply a waste of money,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, an Auburn Hills Democrat. He accused Snyder of having no “backbone” and Republicans of “derailing a bipartisan approach … to appease their charter school donors” and the DeVos family, which funds a pro-charter advocacy group and financially backs GOP candidates.READ MORE: Delta Wants Other Airlines To Share ‘No-Fly’ Lists To Help Stop Unruly Passengers
House Speaker Kevin Cotter said the bills would save Detroit’s schools, “preventing a disastrous bankruptcy that would have affected every community in the state.”
Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said insisting on “an all-or-nothing approach” would have unacceptably put Detroit kids at risk if no deal had been reached.
The legislation would force the closure of Detroit schools ranked in the state’s bottom 5 percent. Starting in the 2017-18 academic year, an accountability system would be created to grade all public schools — both traditional ones and charters — on an A-through-F scale. Schools consistently given an “F” would be closed.
Snyder’s controversial turnaround system for 15 low-performing Detroit schools would be eliminated. Tougher anti-strike provisions would be enacted in the wake of the mass teacher absences that kept students home.
Critics questioned provisions that would allow the schools board to hire noncertified teachers to fill hundreds of vacancies and require the financial commission to sign off before a superintendent is fired.
“This bill denies the people in Detroit real local control and fails to propose an actual strategy to stabilize all schools in Detroit,” Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and AFT Michigan President David Hecker said in a joint statement.
School-choice advocates, however, praised House Republicans for looking out for students and parents.
“Thanks to this compromise, their opportunities are protected,” said Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project.
The main bill was passed by the narrowest margin, 55-53, with eight Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Votes on the five other bills ranged from 56-52 to 60-48.MORE NEWS: Veteran Needs Help With Home Repairs
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