Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a complaint in Detroit's Third Circuit Court Thursday, asking the court to remove seven of the Detroit School Board's 11 members and halt further action by the body.
The legal challenge comes in the midst of a power dispute between the board and the state of Michigan, triggered by the suspension of the state's emergency managers law, Public Act 4.
In his release, Schuette maintained that "seven board members currently hold office illegally because they were elected in separate districts, instead of as at-large members chosen by voters across the school district."
That's because Detroit Public Schools hasn't had enough students (the cut-off is 100,000) to qualify as a First Class School District under Michigan's Revised School Code since September 2008. Under Michigan’s Revised School Code, only a First Class District may elect members by districts. Detroit was the only First Class District in the state; other school boards hold elections at-large. The Detroit Board of Education has continued to operate as a First Class District, conducting its November 2011 Board elections in violation of state law, according to the Attorney General.
Until recently, Emergency Manager Roy Roberts ran the Detroit Public Schools. But a recent State Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for Michigan voters to decide whether or not to repeal the law in November. The suspension of that law, Public Act 4, has put much of Roberts' authority on hold.
What happens after that is still in contention. The attorney general maintains that Public Act 72, the law which preceded Public Act 4, is now in effect. The older law allows the governor to appoint emergency financial managers, which are like emergency managers, but with reduced powers. Detroit School Board member Elena Herrada previously told The Huffington Post that she believes Public Act 4 replaced the previous act, and that both laws are now null and void.
This distinction holds major policy implications for district due to the sharply divergent views of the board and the EM.
"How convenient for them to say this at this particular time. It's a stall tactic to prevent the board from acting," School Board president Lamar Lemmons told the Detroit News in reference to the Attorney General's court challenge.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the board acted late Thursday to approve a contract with John Telford, a former school administrator, to serve as an interim superintendent for $1 per year.
They also moved Thursday night to revoke the transfer of 15 Detroit schools into the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), the state's newly-formed district for low-performing schools and to break off relations with that district, according to the Detroit News.
A DPS spokesman previously told The Huffington Post that rescinding Public Act 4 would not affect the EAA.
In his release, Attorney General Schuette said the school board's actions threaten the state's efforts to "assure the orderly and efficient provision of quality educational services" in DPS.
"That State initiative is in jeopardy because the locally elected School Board is illegally constituted and operating in contravention of law," said Schuette. "The Attorney General brings this action to assure a good education is provided for Detroit’s student population, both in the upcoming school year soon to start and in ensuing years."
Gov. Rick Synder issued a statement supporting Schuette's move. “Under Roy Roberts, DPS has made significant strides with a strong turnaround plan underway. And the Educational Achievement Authority is a groundbreaking approach to help provide the kids in these targeted, challenged schools with the educational opportunities they need and deserve," said Snyder. "Our focus and priority must be on these kids as they prepare to start the school year in less than a month.”