By Ann Zaniewski
Gov. Rick Snyder picked Flint's emergency manager Tuesday to be the next leader of Detroit Public Schools, a move that sparked criticism from people who believe the district should be returned to local control.
Darnell Earley, 63, said he plans to spend his first 90 days reviewing operations and will hone in on improving academic achievement. He is the fourth governor-appointed emergency manager for DPS in six years.
Snyder said another emergency manager wasn't his preferred option, but that he saw it as necessary, given the district's financial and academic challenges. DPS has a $169.5-million deficit.
"There's progress being made, but there's more to be done," Snyder said, "and that's what this transition is about today. ... We're going to stay on this path until we get better outcomes for the kids."
Earley's first day was Tuesday. His salary is $225,000, according to the governor's office. He replaces Jack Martin, who stepped down after serving as emergency manager since July 2013.
Earley, an ordained deacon and married father of three, has been Flint's emergency manager since October 2013. Before that, he worked as a city manager in Saginaw, a city administrator in Flint and budget director and controller for Ingham County.
Snyder said Earley has a "legacy of success" in dealing with financial challenges. Flint is on track to return to local control in about three months, officials said.
During a news conference Tuesday at Burton International Academy, Earley said that "educational achievement must be the focal point of all of our interests." He said he plans to implement changes, but didn't reveal details.
"For example, if you have 10 people doing a job that perhaps can be modified in some way, you have to look at that," he said. "These are the painful things you have to look at. Everything has to be on the table."
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said he's furious about the district getting another emergency manager when the previous three haven't worked.
"I am offended as a citizen of the city of Detroit that, once again, the governor has blatant disregard and disrespect for the rights of the citizens ... to elect and to empower their leaders," he said.
"Emergency managers can come and go, but the problems have stayed the same."
School board member LaMar Lemmons said having another emergency manager usurps the intention of PA 436. The state law says that if an emergency manager has served for at least 18 months after being appointed, a governing body can remove the manager by a two-thirds vote. Earley's appointment came just shy of Martin's 18-month anniversary.
Snyder said school safety has improved, enrollment losses have stabilized and there has been progress toward improved academic achievement under Martin.
But challenges remain. The district announced in December that its deficit was nearly $170 million, up from the $127 million announced a few months earlier. That's significantly less than the 2010 deficit of more than $300 million, but also larger than the nearly $80-million shortfall DPS had around the time Martin gained control. DPS has about 47,000 students.
Snyder, responding to a reporter's question, said he doesn't believe bankruptcy is a good option for DPS.
Earley's appointment comes as discussions swirl around education reform in a post-bankruptcy Detroit.
Last month, officials from the Skillman Foundation and other groups formed a 31-member coalition charged with finding ways to address academic achievement, finances and other problems surrounding education.
Earley's new job surprised officials in Flint, who expected him to stay through April. Flint City Council President Joshua Freeman learned about his departure from a reporter Monday night. By Tuesday morning, Earley had removed his belongings from City Hall.
Snyder appointed Jerry Ambrose, a financial adviser to Earley in Flint, as Earley's replacement.
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