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Michigan governor urges action on Detroit schools before court intervenes

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder gives an interview on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Michigan legislators need to pass legislation quickly to overhaul Detroit’s beleaguered public schools before courts intervene, the state’s governor said on Friday.

Republican Rick Snyder said he is still pushing a plan for the school system that he offered last year that he said would provide $700 million to deal with the schools’ massive debt and make other investments.

“I need legislative support,” he told MSNBC in an interview. “I’ve asked the legislature to do that and I want to get that done before we have court intervention in the situation.”

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said municipal bankruptcy is not an option the state wants for the Detroit Public Schools, although Snyder would have the ultimate say on whether the district could head to federal bankruptcy court.

Snyder’s plea for action comes after teachers’ protests closed nearly all Detroit schools this week. All but nine of the district’s 97 schools closed because of the teachers’ sickout on Wednesday over complaints about low pay and crumbling infrastructure.

Detroit’s schools, like the city, have suffered from financial hardship that has shaken the region in recent years. The schools now are run under state oversight.

Declining enrollment as well as heavy pension and debt obligations have left the district strapped for cash and it could run out of money as soon as April.

Bills were introduced earlier this month in the Michigan legislature to create two entities - the Detroit Community District to run the schools, and the current Detroit Public Schools to retire debt.

The school system faces an estimated $3.5 billion in debt, according to one report from a nonprofit public affairs group, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Bill Trott