- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Majority House Republicans on Wednesday proposed spending $770 million over a decade to rescue the Detroit school district from financial problems while also calling for a teacher merit pay system, restricted collective bargaining rights and ranking the schools’ performance with letter grades.

The legislation, unlike bills being considered in the GOP-led Senate, goes beyond financial, governance and state oversight issues into subjects such as stopping employee “sick-outs” that have closed schools in recent months, capping central administrative office expenses and moving new hires into 401(k) instead of pension plans. The restructuring proposal would still, like the Senate plan backed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, split the district into two - with the old one existing to retire debt and the new one running schools.

Snyder has proposed shifting $72 million a year from Michigan’s settlement with tobacco companies toward bailing out the district and launching a new one. He also wants to spend $50 million this fiscal year to keep the district afloat.

The House plan would transfer $72 million annually from state’s general fund. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said he would instead like to eliminate an unintended tax break worth $60 million to $80 million a year to the insurance industry.

The finances of Detroit Public Schools, with a projected $515 million operating debt load by this summer, have become so dire that the system - which has been under state financial management for almost seven years - is in danger of starting to run out of money in April.

Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland and a bill sponsor, said the legislation would bar employees from negotiating work schedules and school calendars so the district could move to a balanced, or year-round, schedule.

“This is all an effort to make sure that our kids are getting the most beneficial education so that they have great outcomes in their futures,” she said during a Capitol news conference.

Democrats criticized the plan, including provisions that would maintain state financial oversight until the budget is balanced for 10 straight years and not allow for a fully elected school board for eight years. They said the bills would effectively dismantle the teachers union.

“The plan is woefully short on details of how we are going to improve our crumbling school buildings, decrease class size so that kids aren’t sharing a classroom with 50 other students and stock (Detroit) schools with the latest books, technology and teaching resources so our students can learn and our teachers can teach,” said Rep. Brian Banks, D-Detroit.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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