With pressure building, it was just a matter of time before Darnell Earley, the embattled emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools was either fired or forced to resign. He chose the later and announced yesterday that he will step down and leave DPS on Feb. 29. Before his current position, Earley served as the emergency manager in Flint and is blamed along with Gov. Rick Snyder, for Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis. Now, Earley is being asked to explain his role before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington D.C.— an invitation he has refused to accept.
His resignation took some by surprise. Just a week ago, Earley was pushing hard against DPS teachers who have used social media and other public means to protest the unsanitary conditions of some school buildings in the District. He filed a restraining order within the last couple of weeks against the teachers to stop the sick outs but lost when the Michigan Court of Claims refused to grant him the request.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers also filed a lawsuit against him and DPS stating that the District “has not performed its duty to its students, parents, teachers and community to provide a minimally adequate education and to properly maintain the schools.”
The lawsuit also accused Earley of allowing conditions at the District to deteriorate to a level where children could not learn and their health and safety were put at risk, adding that, “It is not a surprise that due to this, and other reasons, including budget cuts and mismanagement, that the DPS is in dead last in academic performance with a majority of its students being left behind the rest of the country.”
Earley admitted once in a media interview that he knew about the unsanitary conditions at Spain elementary school saying, “People have known about the condition of Spain. This did not just happen overnight.” And yet, he did nothing about it as emergency manager.
This exit was long foreshadowed. Earley lost the court battle against teachers and now faces a new fight about his handling of the District. Then there is the inquiry into his role in the Flint crisis while simultaneously questioning the competence of state government under Gov. Rick Snyder. His resignation also coincides with another significant development in the Flint saga— the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan confirmed that the FBI is investigating the crisis in Flint to see if any federal laws were broken.
But even as Earley’s departure draws near, it is in no way an end to the crisis of DPS or Flint. There are multifaceted investigations that have been launched into Flint and the continued decline of the District, where student enrollment once stood at over 150,000 to now just under 50,000 since the state took over DPS in 1999. A number of questions are also being raised about whether Snyder can resolve what seems like an overabundance of impossible situations in Michigan.
Even in the midst of an increasingly doubtful constituency, Gov. Snyder is expected to name a new leader for the Detroit Public Schools. But, the governor had nothing but praise for his controversial Emergency Manager. “Darnell has done a very good job under some very difficult circumstances. I want to thank him for his professionalism and his service to the people of Michigan,” said Snyder. “He restructured a heavily bureaucratic central office, set in place operating and cost-containment measures and has taken steps to stabilize enrollment.”
Earley in turn explained that his departure is simply timed to the completion of the work he was set to do. He made no mention of the lawsuit filed by the teachers against him or the court battles he lost in seeking to stop the sick-outs.
“I have completed the comprehensive restructuring necessary to downsizing the central office and the development of a network structure that empowers the educational leadership of our schools to direct more resources toward classroom instruction. This and other initiatives implemented over the past year were completed ahead of my 18-month schedule.”
But Detroit attorney Bertram Marks says even as Earley attempts to make a graceful exit, the outgoing Emergency Manager for the Detroit schools still has much to worry about.
“Earley is a central figure in the criminal negligence inquiry which led to the Flint water crisis,” said Marks. “As the FBI digs deeper into this crisis we should expect that indictments for breach of the public trust, misconduct in office, and criminal negligence are sure to follow.”
Bankole Thompson is a columnist for The Detroit News where he writes about politics, culture and social issues. Follow him on Twitter @bankieT.