The Detroit public school system is running out of cash so quickly that it likely will not be able to make payroll after April 8 unless state lawmakers take action soon, the new state-appointed emergency manager said Wednesday.
Steven Rhodes, who assumed the helm of Detroit Public Schools at the beginning of March, urged members of the House Appropriations Committee to move quickly to pass legislation to deal with the school system’s mounting debt, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported.
“We can’t print money,” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“The April 8th date concerns me greatly because there is no Plan B,” Rhodes said, according to the Detroit News. “To go dark after April 8th is not an acceptable solution.”
Rhodes said that taking out a loan is not an option because the system can’t afford to take on more debt, diverting money from classrooms to interest payments.
The troubled school system already has a $515 million operating debt and a total debt that exceeds $3 billion.
State lawmakers are considering legislation to restructure the school system, deal with the debt and eventually return the schools to local control. Detroit schools have been run by the state since 2009.
The financial crisis has been building for years, contributing to the deplorable physical condition of the city’s schools. Teachers have led several large sickouts to draw attention to those conditions, including mold, rats, roaches and crumbling ceilings.
The school system also has had trouble filling its teacher positions. Its students perform far below the national and state average: In 2015, for example, just six percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or above in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Leaders of three unions representing Detroit schools employees said that officials now “have a date and real urgency to get serious about making sure our schools are adequately funded.”
“Our members won’t work for free, and our students deserve to have a public school system that works for them — not for Lansing politicians,” said a statement from Detroit Federation of Teachers Interim President Ivy Bailey, Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees President Ruby Newbold and Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals President Donna Jackson.
If schools run out of money on April 8, the statement said, Detroit children will not have schools to attend and those living in poverty also won’t receive the free school breakfasts and lunches on which they rely for regular meals.
At least week’s CNN Democratic presidential debate in Flint, a Detroit mother asked Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders how they would step up to fix the schools, saying her daughter could not wait eight years for improvement.
Sanders said the nation “should be ashamed of how we treat our kids and our senior citizens,” and returning to his stump-speech themes, said he would ask the wealthy “to start paying their fair share of taxes so we can raise the money to make sure that every child in this country, in Detroit, in Vermont, gets the quality education that he or she deserves.”
Clinton said she would restore a program that once provided federal dollars for school renovations and would “use every legal means” to force the governor to return the schools to local control. She also floated the idea of “an education SWAT team” within the U.S. Education Department that could help systems in crisis, although it wasn’t clear how that would work.