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Bills would reduce teaching standards in DPS

Posted: 7:20 PM, Feb 17, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-18 00:20:56Z

What would you say if some lawmakers in Lansing said, ‘We’re going to lower standards for who can be a teacher - but only in your child’s district’?

That is exactly what some House Republicans said to Detroit parents Wednesday.

State Representatives Daniella Garcia from Holland, Brad Jacobsen of Oxford, Amanda Price of Park Township, and Al Pscholka of Stevensville sat together to announce what they call the "Putting Students First Plan."

“It is our intent to put kids first in this package of bills for Detroit Public Schools,” said Garcia.

Their plan has some similarities to the Senate plan 7 Action News has been following. It would create two districts, with the old district paying off debt and a new debt free “community district" educating kids. It also would provide the district about $720 million to pay off debt.

It also calls for policies the Senate plan does not. It would give the new school district the ability to make decisions about employees without union negotiation.

“The Community District will be able to unilaterally make decisions about employees, without having to negotiate with the employee’s union,” said a flyer describing the plan distributed by GOP House leaders.  "Additionally, the amendment will prohibit the Community District employees from conducting union business during district paid time, and increases the penalties imposed on an employee for striking.”

It would require the Michigan Financial Review Commission oversee spending at Detroit Public Schools.

It would force the school district to only offer new employees 401k plans, instead of pensions.

7 Action News asked lawmakers how this would impact the district’s ability to recruit. The 401K part of the legislation would force the district to offer a perhaps less desirable benefits package than surrounding school districts offer. 

Right now there are hundreds of DPS teacher vacancies, and thousands of kids in classrooms without teachers. The district says it simply can’t fill the positions as it is.

When asked, “You don’t think it will make it harder for them to hire teachers?”

State Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford) responded saying only, “I certainly hope not.” 

State Rep.Daniela Garcia (R-Holland) offered more reasoning why this wasn’t a concern.

“There is a reform component in there, which goes to alternative certification,” said Garcia. 

She said the goal is to change the standards for who qualifies as a certified teacher in Detroit.  It would leave Detroit able to hire people to teach, who are not qualified to teach in other districts around the state.

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) responded with anger. She is a Detroit Public School graduate and former DPS teacher.

“It is attacking our teachers, the people who are in the trenches everyday. It is not addressing the problems.  It is not addressing the academic needs of our children,” said Gay-Dagnogo.

She said many Republican lawmakers are ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the debt was accumulated under emergency managers appointed by the state.

She said the district should not be punished. The kids should not have teachers held at lower standards than in other districts around the state.

"We don’t need any relaxing of the certification requirements. That is unjust. You are creating a sub-par form of education for Detroit children only. Why should Detroit kids have teachers less qualified than children in West Bloomfield,” said Gay-Dagnogo. "Stand up and say no child should be subject to a sub-par form of education. No child should have to go to school with four emergency managers getting six figure salaries, living in hotels, having an entourage of security driving them around while the children are learning with mice in their classrooms, mold, no heat in their buildings. Four emergency managers didn’t see this?”

Not all Republicans support this plan.

“I don’t think we should say ‘Oh, we’re only going to do that to Detroit. And I also do not support lowering the standards for who can teach,” said Sen. Rick Jones (R-24th District) of the plan to lower standards for teachers only in Detroit.

He also voiced concerns about the plan to force the district to offer new employees 401k plans instead of pensions. It would make it hard for DPS to recruit and would cost taxpayers around the state money.  The reason?  The pension plan counts on new teachers.  Without them it is underfunded and taxpayers have to pay up.

Rep. Gay-Dagnogo says it is telling that the lawmakers who came up with the House plan didn’t include her. She said they are from all over the state, but not from Detroit. She said they are not interested in a solution Detroiters will buy into. They blame Detroiters and the school board for the financial disaster the district is in, set to run out of money to operate in April. She says the state shares responsibility, as the district has been under the control of emergency managers since 2009.

“It reflective of the fact there is institutional racism. That's the problem. Their lens doesn’t allow them to see that we as African Americans did not create this. The on-going narrative that somehow Africans Americans can’t lead their own communities, we can’t have our own elected representatives…. is an attack against our level of intelligence. They have not allowed our school board to lead our district for years." 

READ THE BILLS BELOW:

School Code (03997'15)

PERA (03058'15)

MPSERS (02732'15)

Income Tax Act (05305'16)

Financial Review Commission (04000'15)

Community District Education Fund (05165'16)