The best way to improve the efficiency of Downriver public schools would be to offer parents schools of choice; a choice for their children. Under a schools of choice system, parents choose which school to send their children to, and their public tax dollars follow. The schools of choice concept has been successfully implemented in New York's Spanish Harlem and Minnesota, and has been proposed in Michigan. 
The literature explaining the virtues of choice in education is substantial and need not be repeated here.  However, a brief summary of the argument may be valuable.
The best reason for allowing schools of choice is that it creates competition among schools for students. Public schools that perform well would attract students and expand, while schools that do not perform well will lose students and shrink, or eventually disappear.
Elimination of the government's monopoly on education would also benefit students, although this development is not likely to occur anytime soon. It is worth noting that a substantial number of private Roman Catholic elementary and high schools continue to thrive Downriver despite this monopoly.
There are substantial restrictions at the state level for offering schools of choice. Parochial schools are prevented from receiving state school aid funds under Article 8, Section 2. of the State Constitution of 1963. The State Aid Act, Public Act 94 of 1979, does not allow non-religious private schools to receive the per pupil state aid which public school districts receive. Private schools, as well as public schools could compete for students if this act were amended at the state level.
The act does not allow state aid to cross public school district lines. However, it is possible for school districts to contract with each other to allow students from any district to attend any other school district. The State Aid Act provides that the accepting school can receive the state for that student, if the district in which the student resides approves. If the 17 Downriver communities agreed to allow students to attend any school district in the area, this would open up the region to a wide range of schools.
At a minimum individual school districts should allow parents and students a choice of schools within the district. Such a move would not be nearly as positive a force in improving the area's educational quality as allowing choice across districts, but the range of choice would be sufficient to improve quality, especially at the K-6 and K-8 levels.