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Despite looming funding crisis, Detroit schools leaders make plans for the future

(Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat)
(Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat)

Even as the future of Detroit schools remain murky – just 29 days before the district expects to run out of money – DPS leaders say they’re planning for the future.

District Manager Steven Rhodes told attendees at the Mackinac Policy Conference this morning that he’s trying to figure out next year’s budget – “It’s very challenging as you can imagine,” he said — while Superintendent Alycia Meriweather is focused on ten years from now, on what she called the DPS “dream.”

Meriweather has invited DPS employees to serve on Academic Advisory Council to develop plans for things like how to measure school success and how to improve attendance.

When the council met for the time last week, she said, 95 teachers, principals and other employees came out to answer the question: “Who do we want to become?”

They broke into 13 committees that will be charged with finding recent peer-reviewed research about what works in other districts to develop solutions for DPS.

When asked to describe their response to the process in a single word, she said, “the words were ‘hopeful,’ ‘optimistic,’ ‘invincible,’ ‘ready,’ ‘fired up,’ you know, ‘let’s take it on,’ so I’m excited about the talent that we have in DPS … We just have to give them the opportunity and the resources and I’m very confident that we will be in a different place, a positive place in the future.”
Rhodes says he’s focused on more short-term goals like negotiating fair contracts with teachers and other unions.

DPS teachers, he said, “have shown extraordinary commitment, extraordinary dedication … They have stuck with DPS all these years with no pay raises and in fact two ten percent pay cuts … lending DPS $10,000 each. They have proven their commitment and dedication and so they deserve our respect.”
Rhodes is doing the leg work to start a new district if the legislature splits DPS into– one district that will pay off $515 million existing debts and one that will start fresh.

It’s a “daunting” prospect, he said. “We are in the process of making lists of all of the legal and financial and practical things that have to be done to launch a new school district and its quite long but we will get through it if the legislature will only give us the go ahead to do that.”

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