Detroit Public Schools' debt partially forgiven by city
- The city of Detroit has agreed to forgive Detroit Public Schools' $11.6 million debt in exchange for vacant lots and school buildings.
- In exchange for the debt forgiveness, the district will give up 20 vacant lots and 57 vacant schools, which Mayor Mike Duggan says will either be secured or torn down this year.
- According to the Detroit Free Press, the district's debt, which currently hovers at $127 million, was largely incurred from astronomical electricity bills that were largely due to the power that was needed to alarm vacant buildings and deter scrappers.
Detroit Public Schools has been struggling with finances for years. In fact, despite having an emergency manager, the debt has only increased each year. It got so bad this past year that, over the summer, Emergency Manager Jack Martin suggested closing another 24 schools in the next four years and reducing teacher pay by 10% starting in October.
While any debt forgiveness is good news, there appears to be more to the story. Duggan's desire to suddenly forgive the debt wasn't random. Detroit is currently in the midst of a massive blight removal process, with the goal of removing ALL of the city's blighted and abandoned buildings. By assuming full control of the DPS buildings, the ability to tear down detritus is much easier. The current blight removal plan is aligned with a city planning document entitled Detroit Future City, and some critics are wondering if the closed schools actually needed to be closed or are part of bigger redevelopment plans. The Detroit Future City plan proposes slowing down city services in areas with high vacancies and turning much of that land into urban farms and forests. Schools in those regions would make that plan more difficult.
One example of a questionable closure was Oakman Elementary, which was at 99.2% capacity when it shut its doors. Another questionable example that deals less with the Detroit Future City plan and more with goals to privatize Detroit's school system is Southwestern High School. The school was closed after the 2010-11 school year, around the same time the Education Achievement Authority was being created. Southwestern was closed by then Emergency Manager Roy Roberts due to “low enrollment," but the Education Achievement Authority (which Roberts now sits on the board of) is currently expanding one of its southwest Detroit elementary schools to include high school grades, arguing that there aren't enough options in that area. Something seems off if DPS is closing schools because there aren't enough students and then the state-run district is opening a new school in the exact same neighborhood because there are too many students and not enough options.
- Detroit Free Press Detroit forgives DPS debt in exchange for empty schools