CHICAGO — A Detroit-based coalition is set Monday afternoon to release a series of recommendations that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will use to help guide a high-profile reform of the troubled Detroit school system.
The report will reportedly focus in part on the district's debt, which totals $2.1 billion. The group may recommend creating a new debt-free district with another district using an outstanding levy and state aid being used to pay off existing debt until it matures, according to a report in the Detroit News.
The Detroit Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren is made of up of 36 local leaders and led by the Skillman Foundation. It was formed in December to study DPS and recommend reforms to Snyder. The governor has said improving the long-troubled district, which has been under state control for six years, is one of his top priorities this year.
Restructuring the debt would require state legislation. Michigan lawmakers have allowed similar moves in the past with the struggling Highland Park and Muskegon Heights districts.
The coalition has a finance committee that has honed in on the bond and pension debt, which it says totals $58 million in annual debt service, or $1,200 per student. Committee members, who are working with a bond attorney and other public finance experts, have repeatedly said that DPS cannot improve if it continues to have to pay off the debt.
The coalition is also expected to recommend a new committee that would oversee the city's entire school landscape, which includes public schools, charters, and 15 schools that have been taken over by a state group aimed at improving the state's worst-performing schools.
The report comes after Moody's Investors Service hit the district with another downgrade on March 23, pushing it to Caa1, seven notches below investment grade. The rating reflects the district's current and likely future fiscal stress and rising debt.
DPS carries roughly $2.1 billion of debt. Of that, $1.5 billion is unlimited-tax general obligation bonds, just under $300 million of state aid revenue bonds, and $165 million loan from Michigan's School Loan Revolving Fund, according to Moody's, which is the only ratings agency to maintain underlying ratings on the district.