Detroit school board names Gov. Snyder in federal lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2016 4:42 PM
Detroit school board names Gov. Snyder in federal lawsuit

DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit school board has named Gov. Rick Snyder in a federal lawsuit that in part blames the district's deep financial troubles on Michigan's emergency manager law.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Detroit and seeks class-action status on behalf of about 58,000 students enrolled since 2011. Also named are three of the four people appointed by the state to try to fix money woes in the district, which has been under continuous state oversight since 2009 when its budget deficit was estimated at about $300 million.

State management of the Detroit Public Schools has "turned the district into a virtual financial hell-hole," according to the lawsuit.

This year alone, the district has had to deal with teacher sick-outs that closed schools, buildings found to be in violation of city health and safety codes and the threat of running out of money.

A dozen current and former principals, a district administrator and a vendor have been charged with conspiracy to commit bribery after kickbacks were paid for supplies that never were delivered to schools. They also are charged in the lawsuit.

Enrollment also has dropped this year to about 46,000 students from 95,000 in 2009.

Children attending Detroit schools while under state emergency management "have been irreparably harmed by the lack of resources in the classroom, by the instability of the schools," school board member Elena Herrada said Thursday at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.

Laura Biehl, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said Thursday that his office "can't comment on pending litigation."

The threat of running out of money led lawmakers to craft a measure to provide $48.7 million in emergency funding to keep schools open through the end of the academic year; Snyder signed it last month. The Republican governor also has been pressing state lawmakers to enact a $720 million restructuring plan that would split the district in two and pay off its operating debt.

Retired federal judge Steven Rhodes was appointed this year to oversee the district. Rhodes has said his focus is to transition Detroit Schools back to local control.

"The lawsuit is intended to set that record straight," said Thomas Bleakley, an attorney representing the school board and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "The state should assume the burden of what has happened."

"My mission is going to be intent on proving that someone is responsible for this and that someone should be paying for it," he added.