Detroit lawmakers blast DPS bills in state house

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The House of Representatives is expected to vote on controversial bills that would address the Detroit Public Schools financial crisis.

One thing is clear. No Detroit lawmaker is likely to vote in support of the bills.

This is one of two proposals in Lansing right now in response to the district’s financial crisis. The other was put together by the Senate.

So what do the bills (House Bills 5382, 5383, 5384, and 5387)  being debated right now do and why are Detroit lawmakers so against them? There are several issues.

Detroit lawmakers say it is about power. The House plan would delay the election of a school board in Detroit until next year.

“That is unacceptable. Our children have suffered long enough under emergency managers,” said Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit).

It is also about busting unions. 

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, which voted for the bill - sending it to the full House - made it clear they are unhappy with the protests by Detroit teachers that closed schools.

The protests happened after teachers said they learned they were facing payless paydays because the district was underfunded by the state, and protested to ensure they are given what they are owed. 

Many Republican lawmakers say the teachers should have stayed in the classroom teaching kids, not participated in such political actions.

The proposals would create a new school district and throw out current labor contracts. They would potentially decrease the pay of teachers in Detroit, by allowing the district to use uncertified teachers.

Republicans say this would address the teacher shortage.

“Teachers are professionals. You don’t put uncertified teachers in just Detroit Schools,” said Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) “You wouldn’t do that with anyone else. You wouldn’t say to address the pilot shortage, we are going to take away the certification to become pilots. I wouldn’t want to get on that plane!”

One of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Al Pscholka from southwestern Michigan says Detroiters should be grateful for the money the bill provides.

“The original debt was $515 million. We paid down about $50 million. We’re making available another $500 million to give the district a fresh start,” said Pscholka. “It is a good proposal.”

Detroit lawmakers say it isn’t enough to solve the problem.

On Tuesday, State Representative Brian Banks (D-Detroit) asked a House Appropriations Committee to call for an audit.  He had just heard testimony from the State Treasurers Office that it was unclear whether the bills provided enough funding to address the issues facing DPS.

Committee members voted down the request for an audit. They approved the bills in committee.

Detroit lawmakers who met with school district leaders say hundreds of millions more dollars are needed than the bill provides for.

“We have a federal judge who was appointed by the governor saying the need is over $800 million,” said Rep. Gay-Dagnogo.

Detroit Public Schools was asked, but could not provide numbers on the need to successfully restructure to 7 Action News.

“I have heard that from Detroit lawmakers for a long time, it is never enough money. It is never enough money,” said Rep. Pscholka. “This is enough money.”

The bill, if it passes in the House, would still need to go to the Senate for approval. 

Some Detroit lawmakers believe there is a conspiracy. They believe the bills in the House are part of a plan to set the district up for privatization.

“We are subjecting the district to financial failure,” said Rep. Gay-Dagnogo.  “We might as well close the doors today and privatize because that is what they intend to do.”

“I don’t know where that is coming from,” said Rep. Pscholka in response.  “There is no privatization at all. That is not what these bills are about. Most districts would love to have the state step in and take care of their debt."

The bill, if it passes in the House, would still need to go to the senate for approval.