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Detroit Public Schools miss pension payments, sink deeper into debt

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Detroit Public Schools is offering 45 schools to charter companies.

Detroit Public Schools is $53 million behind in pension payments with no end in sight for the financial free-fall.

According to Chad Livengood of The Detroit News, the district is predicting a deficit of $166 million.

"The biggest driver to the DPS deficit is legacy costs and past debt," Livengood says.

With past years' debts rolled into one, payment becomes even more difficult for the schools to escape.

"The pension is the last thing that gets paid when DPS is trying to hold onto money and make sure they have enough money to make payroll every two weeks and keep classes operating," Livengood says.

DPS has been under state oversight for 12 of the past 15 years and is currently on its fourth emergency manager in the past six years.

But the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren is looking to interrupt this failing system. Livengood says the group will be unveiling new recommendations to the governor this week on how they believe education in Detroit should change.

Currently, the area is a mix of charter schools and public schools, and DPS is saddled with much of the responsibility of serving special education needs.

According to Livengood, charter schools don't have the same type of mandate for servicing every need of special education students. He says this has caused DPS' special education costs to be higher than the statewide average.

So where will the money to fix DPS come from?

"I would look for this to be a big negotiation point in the budget talks, especially as the governor formulates a plan and submits a new plan to the Legislature this spring," Livengood says.

But until a budget is agreed upon, the coalition is moving forward and Livengood says he's heard its proposals may include a new position that oversees all educational entities in the city.

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