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Amid the release of austerity budget

Detroit judge issues preliminary injunction to halt school closings

Published May 2, 2010 10:09 PM

Two major developments in Detroit have highlighted the struggle against ruling-class attempts to privatize the public education system and impose a massive “rightsizing” plan that would dislocate thousands of residents.

Judge Wendy Baxter of the Wayne County Circuit Court ruled April 16 that the state-appointed emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, could not proceed with plans to close more than 40 public school buildings without consulting with the elected Detroit Board of Education. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed March 2 on behalf of several schoolteachers, parents and students in opposition to the arbitrary decision being made by the appointee of Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

On March 23, the suit was joined by the Board of Education after plans were announced to shut down 45 schools. Baxter’s ruling declared that the emergency financial manager’s responsibilities did not include the right to make unilateral decisions that impacted the school district’s academic policy.

Closing the schools would have a devastating impact on both the public education system as well as the affected neighborhoods. Thousands of parents, community members and students have attended numerous public hearings called by Bobb over the last several weeks, making their case for keeping the schools open. Demonstrations have taken place in opposition to the closings of several schools, including Northwestern, Cooley and Western.

These plans targeted some of the most academically successful schools within the district, where students have made significant progress in regard to performance on standardized tests, as well as enhancing parental and community participation.

Attorney George Washington, who filed the lawsuit, was interviewed April 18 on the “Fighting for Justice” radio program on WDTW. He considered Baxter’s injunction a temporary victory on behalf of public education and local control of Detroit schools.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket, immediately filed an appeal to overturn Baxter’s order. Both the Democratic Gov. Granholm and Cox are arguing that to restrict the decision-making power of the emergency financial manager over the Detroit Public Schools would stifle so-called reform efforts.

Since Bobb’s 2009 appointment, the DPS has accrued more than $100 million in additional debt. On April 16, Bobb issued more than 2,000 layoff notices to teachers.

Andrea Egypt, a city employee and member of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs, asked: “What is the purpose of laying off teachers, closing schools, leaving students to find their way to overcrowded schools further away from home? How is that an improvement?”

Egypt continued: “Once the children in the community are being targeted, it’s time for the people in Detroit to stand up. We have seen this fight-back recently, with the protests by students and teachers on March 4 across the country.”

Mayor’s budget calls for layoffs, service cuts

Meanwhile Mayor Dave Bing issued his 2010-2011 budget, which raises more questions than provides answers. The $2.9 billion budget indicates that more than 300 workers will be laid off and that more services will be cut.

On April 20 the Moratorium NOW! Coalition protested in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit. The protest pointed out that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are slated to be turned over to the banks for the mounting debt service obligations to various financial institutions.

The coalition is demanding an immediate halt to the paying of debt service, with those funds utilized to help people stay in their homes, to prevent layoffs and to restore city services.

Ruling-class elements openly call for the implementation of a plan to restructure the city. A report issued in April by the so-called “Citizens Research Council” states that if the mayor and city council are not willing to enact the proposed austerity plans, “an emergency financial manager should be appointed under the Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act in order to negate the authority of the mayor and city council in order to implement changes and renegotiate contracts.” (“Fiscal Condition of the City of Detroit”) The Council is directed by representatives of the banks, multinational corporations and capitalist-oriented academics.

The report continues: “If an emergency financial manager recommends, and the state approves, reorganization and restructuring can occur under protection of bankruptcy, which does allow contracts to be abrogated.”

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is committed to building a broad-based coalition to link all the important issues facing the city. A massive outreach campaign is being planned to take on the banks, corporations and their agents in government in efforts to halt the downsizing and the further disempowerment of Detroit’s working people.