Amid Crumbling Detroit Schools, Gov. Rick Snyder Faces Protests

Reno Berkeley

Governor Rick Snyder is in even more hot water these days after photos of Detroit Public Schools have made their rounds on the internet. The water crisis in Flint shows no signs of going away, but compounding his already contentious tenure as governor come accusations that he and his officials have been grossly negligent to Detroit’s schools.

Fed up with being ignored by officials, students and teachers have begun posting disturbing photos of schools in alarming states of disrepair. The photos are evocative of Third World conditions, not of schools in one of the wealthiest nations on earth.

The mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, has no control over the administration of the public school system, nor does the school board. Instead, the school system is under the control of state government and Darnell Earley, the same emergency manager Governor Snyder appointed to oversee Flint’s water supply.

In an effort to save the state money, Earley changed Flint’s water supply from the clean waters of Lake Huron to the badly polluted Flint River, whose water was so toxic it corroded water pipes (although he claims it was not his decision). The corrosion leached into the water supply, carrying lead into residents’ home and poisoning thousands of people.

As with Flint, Earley’s administration of the Detroit Pubic School system has been grossly negligent and downright toxic.

Photos show classrooms with black mold growing on the floors and ceilings, mushrooms sprouting out of the walls, and bathrooms with crumbling stalls and broken toilets. Floors in schools are buckled, broken, and rotting. Even the school lunches have mold on them.

The conditions in the schools are so bad that at least one teacher has quit amid health concerns and many others organized a “sick-out” last Monday in protest. Mayor Mike Duggan toured several schools last Tuesday and what he found was deeply disturbing.

At one school, a dead mouse caught in a trap lay in the middle of a classroom while children huddled in frigid conditions trying to learn. Appalled at the circumstances his city’s children were forced to endure, he called on Gov. Snyder to address the issue.

“Lansing needs to address these issues with urgency. We’re heading toward seven years of state takeover and test scores are low, and there’s a bigger deficit than before. After seven years of running the schools, the state needs to do something.”

Duggan’s statement brings up a vital point: That with seven years of state control, Detroit’s schools are in worse shape than they were than when Snyder and Earley took over. Gov. Snyder, though, continued to defend the emergency manager.

“He’s been doing a good job. He’s been working hard. If you think about it, our goal is to get the Detroit Public Schools to be successful. I’ve proposed a package that involved an investment of over $700 million to improve education in Detroit. I’m not sure why people would want to go out and protest against a solution like that.”

Perhaps Gov. Snyder should focus on improving the buildings, first.

For his part, Mayor Duggan expressed disgust and frustration at the lamentable conditions the children were learning in.

“I saw 4-year-olds in a classroom where it was about 50 degrees…there’s a part of each day they actually expect to have to wear their coats in the classroom.”

Governor Snyder’s $700 million plan is supposed to make the district debt-free, but Duggan wasn’t impressed.

“One third of the money in the district is being dedicated to the debt and not to fixing leaky roofs. They’ve been talking in Lansing about the district’s future since last spring and they still don’t have a bill ready.”

Amid the finger-pointing, parents, students, and teachers expressed disgust at how badly the district’s school buildings have deteriorated, some to the point of literally crumbling.

Teacher Nancy Muerhoff, who is quitting, described the repulsive conditions she’s forced to teach in. Her classroom is directly below a bathroom upstairs, which has leaked into the classroom for years.

“I have told the building manager. He says, ‘Oh we have to get a contractor.’ The contractor never comes out.”

Tracy Russell, a former student and now a teacher in the DPS, told Detroit news station Local 4 just how bad the conditions are. He drew a parallel between what’s happening in Flint to what’s happening in Detroit.

“[Children] were poisoned to save a dime. So, you know, it just begs the question…we can do better. Enough is enough.”

The sick-outs started last week and teachers have continued to protest, forcing up to 88 schools in the district to close. The district’s Facebook page updates closures daily.

While teachers are looking out for the health and safety of the district’s students, state legislators have condemned the actions as selfish. Michigan’s Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, called the teacher union’s actions mere “political maneuvering.”

“These teachers deserve to be fired for turning their backs on the children in their care. These selfish actions do nothing to help Michigan children, and they do nothing to help the union members who want state support for their failing school district These part-time educators want a handout, but the state of Michigan wants confidence that an improved DPS won’t be torn apart from the inside.”

Apparently, Cotter hasn’t seen the inside of the Detroit Public Schools. They’re already being torn apart by mold, moisture, and poor maintenance.

The Detroit school district is in danger of running out of money by April, so Governor Snyder’s administration must come up with a plan to fund and repair the schools for the sake of all residents of Detroit. No child should have to learn in freezing, moldy, crumbling conditions more suited to abandoned buildings.

[Photo: Pool/Getty]