LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Criticized on two fronts for his role in Flint's lead-tainted water crisis and his handling of teacher sick-outs and building conditions in Detroit's troubled public schools, Darnell Earley has decided to step down from his job as the state-appointed emergency manager for Michigan's largest school district before the end of his 18-month term.
Earley told Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday in a letter that his last day would be Feb. 29 — about 4½ months early.
What Earley said effectively ended his role in overseeing the Detroit Public Schools' finances is Snyder's push for the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature to provide state funding for the district's $515 million operating debt and help transition the district, which has been under emergency management for nearly seven years, back to some form of local control.
"In anticipation of your plan to eliminate the debt, my efforts — in addition to many others who have been engaged in this project with me — have positioned the District to move beyond the restructuring and financial imbalances of its operations, and to now focus on improving the academic achievement of students in a new Detroit Community Schools," he wrote to Snyder.
Democratic lawmakers, who oppose the emergency manager law that gives the state broad financial powers in municipalities and school districts, had called for Earley's resignation because of the rolling teacher sick-outs over complaints about the district's decaying facilities and wrecked finances — forcing dozens of Detroit schools to close intermittently in recent months — and for Earley's 16-month stint as the emergency manager in Flint.
Earley approved a plan to save money by switching Flint's water supply from the Detroit system to a new pipeline consortium, and to use Flint River water until the new pipeline was ready.
The move to the regional pipeline had been OK'd by the Flint City Council and a previous emergency manager in 2013, and Earley had the opportunity to continue buying water from Detroit, but declined the city's offer, saying Flint had been actively pursuing the river as a temporary water source.
Anti-corrosion agents were not added to the river water because of mistakes at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, causing metal leaching in pipes and dangerously elevated lead levels among some Flint residents.
Earley had familiarity with Flint before the appointment, having worked as its city administrator in 2001 and temporary mayor in 2002. He also has been a city manager in Saginaw.
Snyder, who turned to Earley for Detroit's schools in January 2015, said Earley "has done a very good job under some very difficult circumstances." The governor's statement noted that Earley restructured the central office, cut back on costs and took "steps to stabilize enrollment."
Earley said in his letter to Snyder that the goal was "for me to be the last emergency manager appointed to DPS," and echoed many of the accomplishments that Snyder referred to, including developing "a network structure that empowers the educational leadership of our schools to direct more resources toward classroom instruction."
But teachers have complained that Earley, 64, has not responded well enough to their complaints about leaky roofs, rodents and mold in school buildings.
"Earley's resignation presents a perfect opportunity for state officials in Lansing to pay off the debt their appointed managers have created and return the Detroit Public Schools to local control," Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey said Tuesday. "Appointing another emergency manager won't fix Detroit's education crisis. Now is the time for DPS to have an elected school board that answers to the people of this great city."
Snyder said he will appoint a transition leader, not an emergency manager, before the end of the month while legislators debate his restructuring proposal.
Earley was invited to testify Wednesday at a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Flint's water crisis but has declined the invitation, district spokesman Michelle Zdrodowski said.