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School Board steps up with reaffirmed powers

By Victor L. Walker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — The DPS board held a special planning meeting Feb. 21 at Spain Middle School after receiving court rulings that legitimized and clarified their roles—if only for a few weeks.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John Gillis dismissed Attorney General Bill Schuette’s suit that claimed the board members elected by district were holding their seats unlawfully. Schuette argued that due to a decline in student enrollment, the DPS district members did not match the state’s current requirements governing school board elections.

In his Feb. 5 ruling, Gillis said the current school code fails to address what shall happen when enrollment falls.

Judge Annette Berry of the Wayne County Circuit Court’s Feb. 20, ruling clarified the duties of the board and those of Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts. She ruled Roberts must relinquish control over DPS police, cease interfering with communications between academic officers and the board and Superintendent John Telford, and consult with the board on academic issues.

Though the Berry rulings restore the board’s right to academic control, affirming Judge Wendy Baxter’s ruling against Robert Bobb in 2009, the new EM Law, Public Act 436, takes force March 28 and will reverse many of Judge Berry’s decisions.

The elected board must assess the current financial state of the district and decide how to proceed over the next several weeks before PA 436 goes into effect, members say.

The elected board asked Judge Berry’s court for fiscal data but the judge denied the request pending more information from the board.

“We potentially only have a five-week window,” President Lamar Lemmons said. He made it clear there are key measures the board can take to make sure the board maintains some sense of power under the revised EFM law. We need to make sure “the flowchart flows in the direction of the board and not in the direction of the EM,” Lemmons said.

At its Feb. 21 meeting, the board adopted two resolutions. One was aimed at reacquiring Catherine Ferguson Academy from a private charter and returning the school into the DPS system. The other sought to clarify the duties of Karen Ridgeway, who currently serves as superintendent of academics, reporting to EFM Roy Roberts. Under the Baxter and Berry rulings, the superintendent of academics should report to the elected board.

The resolution passed detailing the district’s interest in having Catherine Ferguson Academy return to DPS and will be the subject of public hearings.

Monica Smith, attorney for BAMN, supports the resolution, but says the resolution would be more effective if the public has input. Smith asked that the board hold a public hearing, where the community can offer their thoughts, on the future of Catherine Ferguson Academy.

“A public hearing would help further the spirit of the resolution,” Smith said.

By a unanimous vote, the board stripped Ridgeway of her security detail, which cost the schools more than $56,000 annually, and her title of superintendent of academics. No mention was made of what her new title will be.

The elected board made clear during the meeting that Ridgeway is to answer to Supt. Telford and will no longer be allowed to speak on behalf of the board for any reason.

Member Ida Short suggested the motion include language expressing that all media contact Telford and Telford only.

“Ridgeway doesn’t represent this body. This body and the superintendent will designate who will speak on its behalf,” Lemmons said.

President Lemmons announced that the board is planning a State of DPS address to be delivered March 20, followed by a feedback session March 21. Both are to be held at the Detroit Public Library at 5 p.m.

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