By Shea Howell
March 6, 2016
Governor Snyder has appointed Judge Steven Rhodes as the 5th Emergency Manger of Detroit Public Schools. Judge Rhodes presided over the Detroit Bankruptcy hearing and gained widespread support from Snyder and the corporate elite for his handling of the case. Snyder hopes that Rhodes will be able to influence the State Legislature to acknowledge their obligation to step up and pay $515 million debt to put the district back on sound financial grounds.
This appointment is a desperate measure by Snyder. It is an attempt to shift the public conversation away from the failures of Emergency Management legislation. It is an effort to use that legislation to further undermine public education and destroy the power of teachers and the unions that protect them in their efforts to protect and educate our children.
Emergency Managers have become so toxic in Michigan since the poisoning of Flint’s water supply that Judge Rhodes doesn’t event want the title. He said, “I told the governor that I was not going to be just another emergency manager. This is (about the) transition to local control.” Rhodes wants to be called the “transition manager.” This is an empty gesture. Rhodes has all of the powers of the emergency manager, his authority comes from EM legislation, and he is collecting that salary.
He is an Emergency Manager. And he shares some of their worst characteristics. He combines ignorance with unchecked power. He openly admits he is unprepared to run a school system. He said to WDET as he assumed the powers of Emergency Manager,
“I told the governor when he approached me that I don’t know anything about academics or education or how to run a school system.”
Combining unchecked power with ignorance is why Emergency Managers destroyed the water systems in Highland Park and Flint, sold off public lands to private interests in Pontiac and Benton Harbor, and initiated massive water shut offs in Detroit. These actions not only violate basic human rights, they have cost lives and endangered public safety.
Now we are led to believe that someone who openly states he knows nothing about educational practices, academic development, or complex school systems should advise the state legislature, hire the next superintendent, and put in place the policies that will provide a “new” school board.
Judge Rhodes has already revealed his own complicity in the racial stereotyping and white supremacist attitudes that undergird Emergency Management. This law depends upon the belief that people in urban centers, especially people of color and poor people, cannot govern ourselves. This law claims we are less capable of making decisions about our lives than our fellow citizens are just across the borders of Flint, Pontiac or Detroit. Rhodes shares this belief.
Rhodes talks about people as “stakeholders,” not citizens. He tells us we need to “reach out” to ensure “highly qualified candidates” who can be “trained” in how to be good school board members. He supports the proposed legislation that allows Snyder and Duggan to appoint most of the board. Real local control would not be fully restored for about a decade.
If Lansing pays the debts of DPS it will not be because of Judge Rhodes. It will be because some other Judge forces them to live up to their legal obligations.
Between now August, when the Judge says he will leave, little will have changed for our children. The abuse and neglect they are suffering at the hands of the Governor, the State Legislators and their appointed managers will continue. We, who care about our children and our future, need to open new spaces of love and learning in our communities. In this way we can claim our own power and responsibility for educating our children.