House leadership says skip Mackinac, fix DPS

Posted: 5:51 PM, May 31, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-31 18:01:36-04

Every year political power players in Michigan meet at the Mackinac Policy Conference. The event drives statewide dialogue and allows career-making networking opportunities. This year it starts Wednesday. 

Many state lawmakers won’t be there. Republican leadership in the House has told representatives they need to stay in Lansing, hammering out a solution for Detroit Public Schools. 

On Tuesday, the House floor was empty as House Republicans worked behind closed doors on Detroit Public Schools legislation. After several hours they walked out frustrated about negotiations and mad about Mackinac.  They talked about making calls to cancel hotel reservations. Many declined interviews on the topic. 

It is a different story in the Senate. 

"They already booked their hotel. they are checked out. it is club med over there!,” said Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit.) 

Young says no one should be going anywhere.

“We should lock the doors. We should be here until we get this done. If we gotta get sleeping bags, your onsie, your bean bag.  Whatever you gotta do to make this work,” said Young.

“I don’t know about that. There’s two ways of looking at it,” said Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Oakland County) 

He says Mackinac is a place to talk it out.

“It is a place where members of the House and Senate could sit down in a room, work out all these issues, and come back with a solution,” said Kowall. 

He said the compromise needed this time is between not the parties, but the two branches of the legislature. 

The House says Detroit schools need $33 million to restructure. The Senate says $200 million. 

The Senate wants to create the Detroit Education Commission to decide what public and charter schools should be open in Detroit.

The House doesn’t.

The Majority Leader and the Speaker met this morning to discuss DPS, but did not reach a conclusion. 

A spokesperson for the Majority Leader characterizes their discussion as progress, but has no further details to release. 

Detroit School Board members warned lawmakers that they believe a bill regulating only Detroit Public Schools is unconstitutional unless it gets much more than a simple majority vote of support. 

The Michigan Constitution reads,"The legislature shall pass no local or special act in any case where a general act can be made applicable, and whether a general act can be made applicable shall be a judicial question. No local or special act shall take effect until approved by two-thirds of the members elected to and serving in each house and by a majority of the electors voting thereon in the district affected.”

LaMar Lemmons and Tawanna Simpson, two people elected to the powerless Detroit School Board, say they are speaking out because they oppose a plan to allow uncertified teachers in Detroit schools and to create the Detroit Education Commission. They say a solution to regulate charter schools statewide is needed, not just in Detroit. They say an empowered school board should decide when schools open or close, not a commission. They say charter schools, and therefore choice, should not be more restricted in Detroit than in other communities. They say if the legislature passes such local regulations, they will take the matter to court. 

“This is Detroit exclusive. It is a local act and should require 2/3 majority in both chambers which is a much higher thresh hold than a simple majority,” said Lemmons. 

“Be very careful about setting a precedent. Because if it can happen here in Detroit, it an happen in your backyard,” said Simpson.

Senator Kowall however says he doesn’t see any of the DPS legislation as a local act.

“The state is responsible for educating children. its not each city,” said Kowall. 

The Detroit Caucus, a group of Detroit lawmakers, released a statement saying the concept of the Detroit Education Commission needed to be tailored to include Detroit voices. 

“Community input in school openings and closings is critical. Whatever form a centralized coordinating body takes, we need regional councils and local school leadership teams in advisory positions, as no one knows what Detroit communities need better than Detroiters themselves,” said Rep Stephanie Change (D-Detroit). 

The Detroit Caucus also asked for an audit to be done to see exactly what the district needs financially, given the nine figure discrepancy in the House and Senate plans.