By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - Detroit's poorest-performing schools will be placed in the hands of a new statewide authority next year, the latest attempt to turn around one of the worst education systems in the nation.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced on Monday that a new authority, dubbed the Education Achievement System, will operate the lowest 5 percent of schools in Michigan.
Emergency manager Roy Roberts told reporters that the program will start with about 45 failing schools in fall of 2012 and expand to others the following year.
Thirty-four schools are currently eligible for the program, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Public Schools said.
Snyder, along with Roy Roberts, emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools, announced the move at a press conference at a Detroit high school on Monday. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined by teleconference.
Many details are still being finalized, but local and federal officials stressed the urgency for sweeping reforms in Michigan and in particular Detroit.
"We're fighting to save the city of Detroit," Duncan said. "We are all united in a desperate need to get better faster."
The head of Detroit's teachers union said the group was in agreement with many of the objectives of the program, but important questions about funding and resource allocation needed to be answered.
"You can't argue against the concept, but the devil is in the details," said Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. "How are they going to do it?"
Johnson said his main criticism of the plan was that the union was not involved earlier in the planning stages.
Snyder also launched a private fundraising program to give all Detroit public high school graduates financial resources to attend at least two years of college or a career training school in Michigan.
Snyder and Roberts declined to say how much this program would cost. They said they hoped to expand resources to be able to fund four years of higher education.
"It is really about reinventing Detroit and doing it as a team effort as a starting point and then taking that success throughout all of Michigan," Snyder told reporters.
Over five years the authority can reach 5 percent of Michigan's 4,000 public schools, or 200. Principals, teachers and staff will have direct school control rather than central administrators, Snyder said.
Roberts will serve as chair of the executive committee of the system during its startup.
"For Detroit to be successful, it depends on having successful schools," Snyder said.
The system will be independent, but established through an agreement between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University. Its 11-member board will have seven appointees by the governor, two by Roberts and two by Eastern Michigan.
Roberts said Michigan has 92 persistently low achieving public schools, with 45 in Detroit.
Successful Detroit schools will stay in the district and the $327 million deficit will be eliminated over five years in part by issuing debt, Roberts said.
The Detroit schools will continue to manage district property, debt service management and receive local tax revenue.
Roberts said the goal was to ensure that one-third more of the dollars are spent in the classroom, rather than on central administration.
Principals will have direct power to hire teachers, who will continue to have the right to unionize. Schools will stay in the system until they show marked student progress and then will have the right to remain or return to their district.
"By virtually any measure, Detroit is frankly at the bottom of the barrel," Duncan said in his remarks.
(Additional reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Greg McCune)