LANSING (AP) — State lawmakers who plan to address the Detroit Public Schools’ financial troubles this week are questioning the district’s proposal to sell bonds and wondering why it hasn’t submitted an annual audit.
The Senate, back from a two-week recess, is prepared to introduce a resolution tomorrow that could move up the state’s timetable to help deal with the district’s deficits — $48 million last school year and $150 million this year. The result could mean the appointment of an emergency manager to oversee the schools’ finances, though lawmakers say that’s not what they want.
The issue centers on a disagreement between legislative leaders and the district over how to handle its money.
The Detroit school district says selling bonds — which needs legislative approval — would help while the district considers cutting up to 4,000 jobs and closing schools.
The district plans to submit a more detailed deficit reduction plan by February. But if the bond-selling measure is approved and the district gets wage and benefit concessions from unionized employees, it will still cut up to 2,000 jobs and close between 20 and 40 schools.
“Either way, we have to make the tough decisions between now and (the summer),” said Kenneth Burnley, chief executive officer for the Detroit Public Schools. “We will not put this off.”
But Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming) wants to see a specific plan first and questions the bond proposal.
“The district told us they want to borrow money now and make tough decisions later, but that is not acceptable,” Sikkema said.
Sikkema, Burnley, state Superintendent Tom Watkins and other officials plan to meet today to discuss the problem.
The Senate’s resolution would kick in a law under which Watkins could appoint a team to investigate the financial situation. The House may introduce a similar resolution.
If the state and school district couldn’t agree on how to fix the deficit, a financial manager would be appointed and authorized to make the necessary cuts, Sikkema spokesman Ari Adler said.
“We don’t want to see that happen,” Adler said. “But now is the time to step up and make tough decisions.”
Sen. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) said the Legislature shouldn’t consider the bond measure until it sees an independent audit. He said the public lacks confidence in the district’s willingness to provide financial data.
The district has lost 9,300 students since the fall of 2003. As a result, it’s expected to receive $66.8 million less funding from the state — $24 million more than it had budgeted to lose from projected enrollment drops.
Overall, the district has lost 35,000 students in the past eight years, or more than $250 million in funding per year, Burnley said.
Also this week, the House could consider legislation that would replace the high school MEAP test with a version of a college entrance exam — likely the ACT and an ACT work-skills exam.