Education
9:15 pm
Thu June 28, 2012

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager lays out "draconian" budget

The Detroit Public Schools budget is taking a huge hit next year. But the district’s emergency manager says it’s part of a painful, but necessary restructuring to get the system back on track.

Roy Roberts presented what he admits is a “draconian” budget at a community meeting Wednesday night.

It shaves about 25%, or $250 million, off the previous year’s budget.

The district will lose a record number of students this summer, in large part because 15 of its schools will transfer to the Education Achievement Authority, a new statewide district for failing schools.

The district's enrollment next year is projected to be about 52,000 students. Enrollment was more than triple that a decade ago.

And officials say things will continue to be rough as the district struggles to pay off its deficit—currently estimated at $72 million--by 2016.

All of this left some parents, like Arlyssa Heard, wondering whether it makes sense to send their kids to Detroit schools at all.

“What incentive to I have to keep my kids in DPS?” Heard asked Roberts. “Because frankly, this scares me, and I don’t want to play Russian Roulette.

But Roberts and other district officials say they’ll continue to work toward a smaller, more successful school district.

But Roberts admits the district must pare down to bare-bones essentials.

“We gotta re-design the work,” Roberts said. “We must do what must be done. And those that are nice to do, they must go. They have to leave. They can’t stay here anymore.”

Roberts says the district can do more with less by funneling money directly to classrooms—something he says he’s improved on.

But some people at the meeting questioned whether he’s truly doing that.

Tom Pedroni, a Professor of Education at Oakland University, says he’s crunched the district’s own numbers. And he says DPS isn’t putting anywhere near the 90% of all resources into classrooms Roberts promised last year.

In fact, Pedroni says his numbers show the district is performing worse now, under Roberts’ leadership—48% now, as opposed to 55% before.

“What happened to your promise of 90% and why have you fallen so short, even well short of those you criticized so forcefully?” Pedroni asked.

A district official told Pedroni his numbers were “screwed.”

Some audience members also criticized Roberts for what they call a conflict of interest. Roberts also sits on the Education Achievement Authority Board.

Roberts said he’s thinking about resigning from the EAA board, because he thinks all school districts should compete for students.