DALLAS – With its aid levels at stake, Detroit Public Schools Community District is planning a preemptive strike against state plans to shutter schools.
The district board voted to sue the state's School Reform Office over the threat of school closures in the nascent district.
The vote to pursue litigation against the State School Reform/Redesign Office came Tuesday night during a closed session at DPSCD's public board meeting.
The lawsuit is being filed to prevent the SSRO from taking any additional steps to close any DPSDC schools until the court decides whether or not the SSRO has authority to close schools and whether the action taken to create the SSRO and the legislation itself is constitutional.
The lawsuit is expected to be filed this week. The board in February voted to hire the Miller Canfield law firm to pursue possible litigation against the state.
"Closing schools creates a hardship for students in numerous areas including transportation, safety and the provision of wrap around services," said DPSCD Interim Superintendent Alycia Merriweather in a statement. "As a new district, we are virtually debt free, with a locally elected board and we deserve the right to build on this foundation and work with our parents, educators, administrators and the entire community to improve outcomes for all of our children."
The lawsuit comes even as Michigan Department of Education is offering the district and all other impacted by the threat of school closures a deal to improve schools over an 18-month period before any action on closures. Under the deal, duly elected school boards and district leadership would remain in full control of their schools, the curriculum and their districts.
DPSCD Board President Iris Taylor said in a statement that the lawsuit isn't a rejection of MDE's offer to enter into a partnership agreement. "It is simply the board and the district ensuring that all options are available to us as we work through these challenges," she said.
"We appreciate Governor Snyder for hearing our concerns and taking action," Taylor said. "However, we continue to believe that SSRO's actions were unlawful. Among other things, we believe the legislation that created DPSCD in 2016 gave us a clean slate, which means under the law, our district is entitled to operate schools for at least three years without even the threat of closure."
The potential school closures are the result of 2009 legislation that permits the state to close schools that have ranked in the bottom 5% academically for three straight years. This is the first time the SSRO has announced potential closures of schools under the legislation.
The SSRO closures threaten to bring a loss of state aid for the school district that was born as part of a $617 million state bailout of the ailing Detroit Public Schools district. The overhaul left the old Detroit Public Schools system, which carries an issuer rating of B2 with a stable outlook, intact for the sole purpose of collecting its levies to repay more than $2 billion in obligations.
The new district operates schools and will receive future state aid payments under the restructuring backed by Snyder and state lawmakers.
The SRO threat has targeted up to 16 schools and DPSCD would stand to lose 7,700 students as a result. Students in the district could opt to transfer to DPSCD schools, charter schools or nearby districts. However a Moody's report last month said that the student loss would have been somewhat offset by DPSCD's absorption of 3,700 students who are currently educated by the Education Achievement Authority and nearly 500 students from one charter school closure. The EAA, a state-run district, is slated to close in July.