Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Detroit Judge Temporarily Halts Schools Closings Amid the Release of City Austerity Budget

Detroit Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction to Halt School Closings Amid the Release of Austerity Budget for the City

Moratorium NOW! Coalition calls for halt to debt service payments to the banks

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

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

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

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

The proposal to close the schools would have a devastating impact on both the public education system as well as the neighborhoods affected by the changes. Thousands of parents, community members and students have attended numerous public hearings called by the emergency financial manager over the last several weeks where education advocates made their case for keeping the school buildings open.

These plans targeted some of the most academically successful schools within the district where students have made significant progress over the last several years in regard to performance on standardize tests as well as enhancing parental and community participation in education programs.

Demonstrations have taken place over the last several weeks in opposition to the closings of several schools including Northwestern, Cooley and Western. Atty. George Washington, who filed the lawsuit against the emergency financial manager on behalf of the teachers, parents and students, was interviewed April 18 on the “Fighting for Justice” radio program aired weekly on WDTW AM 1310.

Washington considered Judge 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 Judge Baxter’s order. Both the Democratic Governor Granholm and Cox are arguing that to restrict the decision making power of the emergency financial manager over the Detroit Public Schools would stifle the so-called reform efforts.

Since the appointment of the emergency financial manager in 2009, the DPS has fallen more than $100 million more in debt. On April 16, the emergency financial manager also issued over 2,000 lay-off notices to teachers in the school district.

Moratorium NOW! Coalition member Andrea Egypt, who is a city employee, asked in response to the plans to close schools in Detroit that “What is the purpose of laying-off teachers, closing schools, leaving students to find a way to an overcrowded school further away from home? How is that an improvement?”

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

Mayor Issues Budget Calling for Lay-offs and Service Cuts

Meanwhile Mayor Dave Bing issued his 2010-2011 budget which raises more questions than answers. The $2.9 billion budget indicates that over 300 workers are scheduled for lay-off and more services to city residents will be cut.

On April 20 the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs held a demonstration 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 in order to pay the mounting debt service obligations to various financial institutions.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is demanding the immediate halt to the paying of debt service to the banks saying that these funds should be utilized to help people stay in their homes and to prevent lay-offs and restore city services.

Ruling class elements through a report issued by the so-called “Citizens Research Council”, which is directed by representatives of the banks, multi-national corporations and capitalist-oriented academics, openly called for the implementation of a plan to restructure the city.

This report entitled “The Fiscal Condition of The City of Detroit” stated 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.” (The Fiscal Condition of The City of Detroit, April 2010, Introduction)

The report continues by saying “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. No Michigan municipality has ever filed under federal bankruptcy laws.”

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

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