The bizarre back-and-forth that led to DPS EM Judge Rhodes' meeting with the elected school board

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Judge Steven Rhodes — Detroit Public Schools' emergency manager  — is meeting with members of the elected Board of Education Wednesday morning, at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men. 

The gathering, which Rhodes originally wanted to have behind closed doors, was set up after a raucous and tense public meeting last week, where Rhodes — whose powers come from emergency manager law PA 436 — discussed his plans for the beset district and board members pushed for a meeting. 

While the the former bankruptcy judge originally said it would be "illegal" to meet with the board — even going so far as ignoring board member Tawanna Simpson when she asked what law he was referring to since every other EM had not only met with them was but legally obligated to do so — by the end of the gathering, he had caved. 

EM Rhodes public meeting, May 2016 from Kate Levy on Vimeo.

"You make a very persuasive argument," Rhodes told Thomas Pedroni, an associate professor at Wayne State University's School of Education, after the academic stood up and implored him to meet with the board. "I want, conditionally, to accept your suggestion that I meet with the board," Rhodes continued, saying he would meet with the board so long as they agreed to be "civil." (He even went so far as to have individuals in the room raise their hand, as an oath, promising to be "civil.")

"I made many of the same points that previous speakers had made, including Tawanna Simpson of the elected board," says Pedroni. "Somehow my white male voice was able to reach Rhodes when he couldn't or wouldn't hear others. In the research literature, that's called dysconscious racism." 

Captured on tape by journalist Kate Levy, who worked with MT alum and 2016 Hillman Prize Winner Curt Guyette uncovering the Flint water crisis, the meeting last week  highlighted DPS's precarious current situation, as well as its unusual predicament, where elected board members have become powerless.

Rhodes is Detroit's fifth state-apppointed manager in nearly six years. In January 2009, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Robert Bobb to run the district. From there, the district got Roy Roberts, Jack Martin, Darnell Earley, and now Rhodes, who goes by the title transition manager.  

According to a source close to the board, Wednesday's gathering will be run like a traditional board meeting, with Rhodes as a guest. The goals of the meeting, according to the source, include getting Rhodes to sign onto a federal lawsuit that was recently filed on behalf of the powerless board against the state and seeking his support of a forensic audit of the district's finances. 

Wednesday's meeting is at 9 a.m. in the auditorium of the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, 2001 W. Warren. 

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