A retired bankruptcy judge has been appointed "transition manager" of the Detroit school district.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Monday that Steven Rhodes, the judge who presided over the bankruptcy case of the city of Detroit in 2013, will oversee the finances and operations of the financially teetering school system.
Rhodes is replacing Darnell Earley, who as emergency manager of Detroit schools, came under fire from teachers for what they said was "a willful and deliberate indifference to our schools' increasingly unsafe and unhealthy conditions."
Earley's reputation also took a hit because of his previous role as emergency manager in Flint, Mich., where a switch in the source of the city's water supply resulted in lead-contaminated drinking water and a widespread public health crisis.
Snyder says that Rhodes "is highly respected in the city and was invaluable in leading Detroit out of bankruptcy. Detroit needs strong public schools for the city’s economic comeback to continue through its neighborhoods.”
In addition to managing school finances and operations, Rhodes is working to name an interim superintendent to oversee the district academics, Snyder says.
The Detroit school district has about $515 million in operating debt, and is spending about $1,100 per student on debt service annually.
“We want to make sure the district’s resources are best spent in the classroom helping students and teachers,” Rhodes says. “The district has great challenges ahead, but we can work together to face them and help Detroit students get the education they need to reach their potential.”
The union representing the city's teachers, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, reacted with cautious optimism to Rhodes' appointment.
“The DFT will continue to fight for a locally elected and empowered school board, and it is our sincere hope that Judge Rhodes’ transitional leadership moves us closer to that goal and away from the failed emergency manager system," says Ivy Bailey, interim union president. "Rhodes has signaled support for local control and a willingness to listen to and work with educators, parents and the community. This is in contrast to the approach of past school leaders, which included filing lawsuits against educators, banning health inspectors from hazardous public school buildings, and racking up a school debt of a half-billion dollars with no accountability."
Video from WXYZ-TV: