Detroit schools manager says if schools don't get money, it'll be 'unimaginable'

Judge Steven Rhodes state Legislature will approve $720M rescue

DETROIT – A former bankruptcy judge appointed to oversee the ailing Detroit Public Schools district believes that the state Legislature will approve a $720 million restructuring plan to pay off the district’s enormous debt because the alternative is “unimaginable.”

“The future of Detroit is as much at stake here as the future of the school system,” district transition manager Judge Steven Rhodes said.

A total of 94 of the district’s 97 schools were forced to close Monday after a teacher sick-out. “I fully understand the frustration and pain that our teachers and other educators feel. I not only understand it, I share it,” Rhodes said.

He said that it broke his heart to think about the impact of the closure on the 45,000 students and their families who were being kept out of the classroom.

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In March, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law $48 million in emergency funding that is keeping the district operating through the end of the school year as the state Legislature considers the rescue package.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers on Sunday urged its members to call out sick on Monday following an announcement from Rhodes that the district wouldn't have enough money to continue paying teachers who are on a 26-pay cycle after June 30, or fund summer school or special education programs without further state funding.

“I understand that they have to be paid for the work that they do. I intend to pay them for the work that they do,” Rhodes said.

Watch: Rhodes' news conference

He also said that the revelation about the lack of funding isn’t new.

“We have known and we believe the DFT and others have known for months that this was going to be a problem,” he said. “We said all along that the $48 million that we asked for and then got from the legislature was only enough money to fund our expenses through June.”

Federal corruption probe continues

Meanwhile, 13 former Detroit Public Schools principals are accused of taking kickbacks from a contractor. The first in a line pleaded guilty this past week and could be sentenced to at least three years in prison.

Read: DPS principals line up for guilty pleas in corruption probe

Clara Smith's plea was accepted Thursday in federal court. She is scheduled to be sentenced in September, and could get 46 to 57 months in prison.

Smith was the principal of Thirkell Elementary-Middle School from 2008-2016. She and other principals are accused of scheming with district vendor Norman Shy.

Overall, the U.S. Attorney's Office says 11 guilty pleas so far are scheduled in April and May, including deals with nine principals. The man at the center of the probe, Shy, is scheduled to plead guilty on May 11.

Feds: DPS officials will steal from their own