It’s always good to start right at the beginning when trying to understand a complex ever-evolving situation. This is all the moreso important when the situation is a political football. Consider the plight of the Detroit Public Schools which the Republican state legislature has highjacked since 1999 by attempting to micromanage the state’s largest school district and blaming the powerless locally-elected School Board when things go bad. It’s a winning combination for non-Detroit –based politicians who curry favor with their rural voters by the simple tactic of pointing fingers and laying blame on others for acts they have committed. For those of you who are paying attention to the campaign for the presidency of the United States, I submit that what is going on in Detroit is the local version of “Obama didn’t do this, or he did that.” The most recent example of the latter point is veep candidate Paul Ryan who yesterday described a shuttered GM factory in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. “I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open. One more broken promise.” As pointed out by Benjy Sarlin in an On Talking Points Memo, “The attack falls apart at the factual level. The Janesville plant closed in 2008, before Mr. Obama took office.”
Back to the DPS. The constitution of the state of Michigan was amended back in the 1970s by what is commonly referred to as the Headlee Amendment. A major part of the amendment (Section 29) requires the state to finance any “new activity or service beyond that required by existing law.” The actual language of the constitutional amendment is instructive; “A new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service beyond that required by existing law shall not be required by the legislature or any state agency of units of Local Government, unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the unit of Local Government for any necessary increased costs.”
When the legislature passed 2011 P.A. 4 two years ago, they created the “new service” position of emergency manager for the DPS. Most simply put, the EM was created to run the show for the school district; the manager was to be a business person without academic credentials who was to run everything including all academic matters of the DPS. The first thing the state legislature did in imposing this authoritarian dictator-like setup on the schoolchildren of the DPS was to require the DPS to pay the guy a quarter of a millions dollars a year. That’s right, $250,000. The state legislature wasn’t going to pay the guy. The DPS has to pay him.
Those who understand the Headlee Amendment and Section 29 of that constitutional requirement refer to this as an “unfunded mandate.” The DPS isn’t the only local entity subject to the control of an autocratic EM; There are at least five other cities or school districts similarly removed from the democratic process in the state. As another example, the Muskegon Heights school district is being run by a private company which will receive an eleven million dollar profit each year for doing so. Imagine that, the citizens and voters of Muskegon Heights, not the state, are paying an outside private company eleven million dollars of taxpayer money to manage their schools, all because a state-ordered emergency manager says so. Gee, I wonder if that profit company donates to any state legislators’ campaigns! (I will try to find out and report back to you).
This is only the beginning. The voters of the state of Michigan will have the opportunity to repeal this draconian law in the November election. In future blogs in the leadup to that election, I will have the opportunity to provide additional, many more, details of other unfunded mandates order by the legislature on the pawns of the DPS School Board.
Just saying . . .