Part II - The Eventual Cost of DPS Liabilities to Michigan Taxpayers and Detroit Schoolchildren
DPS has two types of formal debt: operating and capital. Operating debt is a conversion of present and past annual operating deficits into ‘long-term notes’ sold to the financial markets, as well as more immediate debts owed to the State of Michigan directly. DPS capital debt exists only in the form of bonds which were sold to financial markets to purchase and rehabilitate facilities. DPS’ formal bonds are identified by Series, which consists of the year issued and a letter suffix when different purpose bonds are issued in a single year. The financial markets apply a further identifier, CUSIP, which is a unique identifier of municipal bonds by series and their intended dates of redemption. All of the DPS debt sold to the financial markets has been enrolled in Public Act 92 of 2005, a program designed to reduce interest rates to local school districts in accordance with the 1963 Michigan Constitution’s Article IX, Section 16. Most DPS debt is effectively secured by a general obligation to pay, which requires Detroit taxpayers to increase taxes and reduce spending should financial difficulties repaying arise.
DPS pays off its capital debt in annual installments of both interest and principal, before it pays off (or adds to) its operating debt. Bond interest and principal payments are required by bond terms which – if ignored – would result in immediate default and bankruptcy. The exact contract terms of DPS debt sold to the financial markets are laid out in official statements which detail all the formal legal and financial features of the bonds. The official statement is essentially a contract between DPS and its bond purchasers.
DPS’ operating debt payments are somewhat more flexible than capital debt payments because only a portion of operating debt has been converted into formal bonds covered by statements; much of it is separately owed to the Michigan School Loan Revolving Fund. The SSLRF can best be thought of as a State sponsored credit card. School districts tap into it when they are short of cash, and pay off their balance when they are flush. Operating debt is only converted into formal bonds when Michigan school districts exceed their limits at the SSLRF. Those limits are not exact, and generally come into play when DPS goes through one of its periodic financial spasms.