DPS Board of Education members continue to fight
By Victor L. Walker
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Members of the duly elected Detroit Board of Education appeared before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John H. Gillis, Jr. Jan. 10 as defendants in a suit filed by state Attorney General Bill Schuette that claims seven of the 11 board members occupy their seats unlawfully.
Schuette, who did not appear in court, contends the members were elected by district — a privilege he says is reserved for “first-class” school districts. According to state law, first-class school districts are defined as districts with more than 100,000 students in them.
Schuette is also asking the judge to prevent the remaining four members, who were elected at-large, from taking action.
The board needs a quorum of six members to operate legally, according to the AG’s office.
Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have suffered regular drops in enrollment since the initial state takeover in 1999. The numbers rapidly declined under Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts’ predecessor Robert Bobb from 2009 until the present.
“The governor and Roberts are driving people out of the city,” Board attorney George Washington told the Michigan Citizen following the day’s adjournment.
Washington described the attorney general’s attempt to have the current board unseated as rooted in racism and a “cheap political trick to cast out the vote of the people because they don’t like the outcome.”
Annie Carter, Herman Davis, Juvette Hawkins-Williams, Elena Herrada, Wanda Redmond, Tawanna Simpson and Judy Summers were elected by district to the board in November 2012. The votes were certified and each held their position for more than a year before the attorney general filed his case.
“This is yet another attempt to disenfranchise the people’s vote,” Herrada said, describing the suit as “retroactive disenfranchisement.”
Schuette filed the case in August — the same day the state Supreme Court ruled to place on the Nov. 6 ballot the question to repeal the emergency manager law, Public Act 4, thereby suspending the law, which gave total authority of the district to Roberts.
The law was repealed Nov. 6 and in December during lawmaker’s lame duck session, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a replacement emergency management law, which takes effect March 27.
Board President LaMar Lemmons, who had little to say following the day in court, described Michigan as the new Mississippi.
“The fundamental issue here is that the governor and the state attorney are destroying public education in the city of Detroit,” Washington said.
DPS parents and Detroit taxpayers showed up in support of the 11-member board.
“The Emergency Manager created the drop in students with the creation of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) and Self-governing schools,” DPS Yolanda Peoples,told the Michigan Citizen. “Schuette is trying to throw out the vote of the people so the state can appoint its own board,” which she fears could go without accountability.
“If our school board is appointed by the state, it would be accountable to the state, not the people,” Peoples added.
Detroit resident Ruth Carter said “The state is taking education back 150 years. It wasn’t this bad in the Tutwiler.” Carter also wonders which students are being counted “If Roy Roberts is the EFM for DPS and sits on the board of the EAA, isn’t it self defeating to not include the EAA in the student count?”
Though the board continues to struggle for legitimacy as state factions continue to vie for money, authority and control of the district, Herrada says “We can’t afford despair. We’re dealing with unprincipled people here. Hope is the only resource we have.”
The parties expect a ruling from Judge Gillis soon.
“As long as there’s no decision, our people keep functioning as a fully empowered board,” says Washington.
Contact Victor Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org