detroit public schools

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Roads and bridges to be a focus of the State of the State address

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his State of the State address this evening. According to the Detroit News,

"Snyder, preparing to lay out a new road funding scheme in his third State of the State address tonight, admitted it will be tough to persuade lawmakers to approve raising $1.6 billion that a bipartisan legislative report says is needed to keep roads and bridges from crumbling faster than they can be repaired."

Snyder approval rating rises

A new poll shows that the controversial right to work legislation that Governor Rick Snyder signed last month did not hurt his approval rating. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

The poll by the Republican firm Mitchell Research and Communications -- released on the eve of Snyder's third State of the State address today -- is sharply at odds with a poll released Dec. 18 by a Democratic polling firm, Public Policy Polling of North Carolina. The Mitchell poll shows Snyder with a 50% approval rating, up 3 percentage points from a poll Mitchell took in December. It also shows 50% support for the controversial right-to-work legislation Snyder signed after it was passed by the Legislature in December.

In contrast, the PPP poll found 38% approval of Snyder, down 9 percentage points from an earlier PPP poll just before the Nov. 6 election. The PPP poll found 41% of voters support the right-to-work legislation, and 51% oppose it.

Judge ruling could set precedent for emergency managers

A court ruling today could determine what power the Detroit Public School board has over operations. The district is under the control of an emergency manager. The Detroit Free Press reports,

"The court hearing could indicate the effect -- if any -- the school board will have on district operations between now and March 27, when a new emergency manager law will strip the board of its limited authority over academic operations. The board will remain in existence under the new law and could seek to remove the emergency manager after 18 months.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette continues his effort to remove some Detroit school board members.

A Wayne County judge heard oral arguments Thursday about Schuette’s lawsuit to throw out seven board members elected by district.

Schuette says state law only allows so-called “first class” school districts to elect board members that way. He says Detroit hasn’t met that threshold since 2008.

School board attorney George Washington insists his clients followed the law "as the legislature wrote it."

Washington also noted the lawsuit was only filed in 2012, after Michigan’s emergency manager law was suspended.

“They were happy with the way the school board was elected, until they thought they might not have a financial manager," Washington said. "And then they said, ‘Well, we gotta get rid of the board. No matter what the law says, or what we’ve allowed to happen.'"

Classroom
User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Governor Rick Snyder says expanding a state-run district for struggling schools is one of his top priorities for 2013.         

The Education Achievement Authority is designed to turn around schools with persistently low student test scores. Right now, the authority oversees 15 public schools in Detroit.      

Snyder wants to expand the district across the state. The EAA would be able to take over schools that fall in the bottom 5 percent.

Bills to expand the system did not move in the final weeks of the legislative session.        

Snyder says more lawmakers would come around to the idea if they saw the state-run schools firsthand.          

The EAA has been operating for just four months. Opponents of the expansion say it’s too early to tell if the system is working.


(courtesy of KQED)

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA), Michigan’s new reform school district, has been selected as the state’s only finalist in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top-District competition.

The EAA is one of 61 finalists nationwide, competing for close to $400 million in federal funds.

Tyrone Winfrey is the Chief of Staff for the EAA. He says he's optimistic about snagging the funds.

"I think we were chosen because it's not a one-size-fits-all model," he said, "and it's basically educating students where they are, individually, within those classrooms."

If awarded the top prize, $40 million, Winfrey says his district would fund professional development and leadership training for the schools' staff members in order to better prepare students for jobs and college.

The awards are meant to support locally developed plans to personalize student learning, prepare college-ready students, and close achievement gaps.

From the Department of Education:

“These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

“This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists.”

The EAA was instituted in 2011 to operate the lowest performing five percent of schools in the state.

It began this school year with 15 Detroit schools and is expected to expand statewide. New legislation would cement the reform district into state law.

It's part of an education overhaul being promoted by Governor Snyder.

Opponents call the new district “impersonal,” saying it would erode local control of schools districts.

The Department of Education will select 15 to 25 districts for four-year awards ranging from $5 million to $40 million.

Award winners are expected to be announced by the end of the year.

- Jordan Wyant and Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Classroom
User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Last night, the Detroit Board of Education voted to break their contract and pull out of the Education Achievement Authority.

The Board’s decision will greatly affect the EAA, whose initial goal was to provide educational care to struggling schools throughout Michigan.

Don Heller, Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, insists the Detroit Schools’ exit will greatly disrupt the EAA.

“If the Detroit Public Schools pull out of the EAA it will be a major blow,” said Heller.

Michelle Richard, who specializes in Educational Policy at Public Sector Consultants, echoed Heller’s remarks.

“My biggest concern is in the short-term and in lending legitimacy to the EAA’s effort, this just causes more confusion. The legislature is currently looking at codifying the EAA and are looking at how they could continue to expand this effort state-wide,” said Richard.

Listen to the audio above or to our podcast to hear more about the state of the EAA.

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Eighty percent of Detroit parents say they do not believe the city's public schools are the best choice for their child. But they’re split on the other options as well.

A new survey from the Detroit News and the Thompson Foundation asks Detroit parents how they feel about their school choices.

Only one in five parents picked DPS as the best for their kid. But even with the recent increase in school options - charter, private, public schools outside the city - none was a clear winner.

DPS emergency financial manager Roy Roberts says without Proposal S, the district would be severely crippled.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools’ leaders are united behind an effort to renew Proposal S.

That’s a millage that accounts for more than 20% of the district’s day-to-day expenses, or about $80 million.

It was a rare moment of unity for the various factions that run Detroit schools. But emergency financial manager Roy Roberts, school board President Lamar Lemmons, and Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson all agree: the district would be "severely crippled" without Proposal S.

“We’ve put aside our differences on this critical issue," Lemmons said. "It’s not about politics. It’s about educating our students.”

Roberts emphasizes that it’s for basic operations costs, like paying teachers--and it’s for traditional Detroit Public schools, only.

“It will not be shared with EAA , charter schools, nor any other school on the face of this earth,” Roberts insisted.

The EAA is the Education Achievement Authority, a new state-run district for failing schools that now has 15 former Detroit Public Schools.

Detroit voters initially approved the 18-mill levy on industrial, commercial, and rental properties in 2005.

Detroit Public Schools' officials have found a new way to buy school supplies.
MyTudut / flickr

The Detroit Public School district has turned to an online site used mostly by federal contractors to get its school supplies.

Officials credit “FedBid” with helping the district save hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few months.

Bidders announce their intent to buy a product. Suppliers then compete to offer the best price.

District spokesman Steve Wasko said it has helped fix some problems with getting supplies to classrooms.

“This has been, not only from a supply standpoint but from all standpoints, a very smooth start to the school year—at least by way of comparison with previous years,” said Wasko.

Wasko said it's also a good way to save money without compromising the quality of education.

The district’s current budget calls for cutting five million dollars from its procurement budget.

District officials estimate using FedBid alone could save up to three million.

Detroit Public Schools officials are happy with the district’s attendance figures so far this year.

Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts says the district averaged 85% attendance Wednesday, the second day of school for Detroit students.

Roberts says that’s much better than the past two years. The district didn’t reach a 75% attendance rate until later weeks, jeopardizing state funds.

“We think this is proof that Detroit Public Schools is making great strides to meet the needs of the students,” Roberts said.

Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma from Troy High School.
YouTube

Science experiments from two Michigan high school students and a young man from Egypt are expected to be performed next month aboard the International Space Station.

Organizers of the competition to have experiments done by astronauts 250 miles above Earth announced Wednesday that TV personality Bill Nye will host a live online video stream of the experiments Sept. 13.

Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma were named winners in March in the 14- to 16-year-old age group.

The Troy High School students' experiment asks the question: "Could alien superbugs cure disease on Earth?" Amr Mohamed from Egypt won the 17- to 18-year-old age group for an experiment about spiders.

They're expected to watch the online stream.

YouTube, Lenovo, and private space exploration company Space Adventures organized the competition.

Detroit Public Schools / detroitk12.org

The Detroit school district has kicked off its fall enrollment drive in a big way, draping a 300-square-foot T-shirt over the Spirit of Detroit statue in front of city hall.

Leaders of the Detroit Public Schools are working to attract families to the district's new buildings and stabilize attendance that has seen losses to charter and suburban schools.

The T-shirt with the slogan "I'm in" was unveiled this morning and will decorate the statue through Sept. 4.

A Wayne County judge ruled Tuesday that the Education Achievement Authority can launch as scheduled.

That statewide district for the lowest-achieving schools is set to open with 15 former Detroit Public schools next month. The elected Detroit school board had voted to reverse that decision.

via Detroit Public Schools

With Detroit Public Schools students set to head back to class in less than a month, serious questions linger regarding the district’s teachers.

The district’s emergency manager, Roy Roberts, imposed new contract terms on teachers last month.

That infuriated teachers and their union leaders, who said the district never even collectively bargained with them.

But those new terms are now null and void, argues Keith Johnson, President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. He says now that the law has been suspended, Roberts’ “authority” is suspended, too.

School districts with emergency managers have been plunged into uncertainty, now that the state’s emergency manager law has been suspended.

In Detroit, the Michigan Attorney General is suing to make sure the elected school board doesn’t take power back there.

Detroit’s elected school board went from having very little power, to no power whatsoever when the state broadened the powers of emergency managers under Public Act 4.

Sometimes I think Detroit should adopt a new motto, something like: “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it."

This time, the focus is on the Detroit Public Schools, which for years have been famous for incompetence, corruption, and the squandering of money. There were almost two hundred thousand kids in the schools at the turn of the century, a dozen years ago.

This fall, there may be fewer than fifty thousand left. In recent years, the schools have been under state control much of the time. Most recently, they’ve been run by an Emergency Financial Manager with sweeping powers over the system’s finances and academics. But this week, the Emergency Manager law was suspended until after a referendum in November that may repeal it.

In the meantime, the state believes that means that the old Emergency Financial Manager law is back in place.  According to a judge’s ruling, when Emergency Financial Managers were named to run school districts, they had power over finances - but not  academics. The stronger Emergency Manager law gave them both.

But with that gone, at least temporarily, the Detroit School Board moved to reassert itself. You might think they would move slowly and sensibly, reviewing Emergency Manager Roy Roberts’ academic plan and keeping it, as far as possible.

But instead, the board is acting as if they were terribly afraid someone might accuse them of common sense.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he will ask a circuit court judge to order the removal of seven members of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, because they were illegally elected - and seek an injunction to halt future Board action.

From the state's press release:                                             

"Standing up for Detroit school children
A.G. takes legal action to remove seven Detroit School Board members who were elected in violation of state law, halt future board actions

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan, the city of Detroit and the Detroit Public Schools have launched an intensive effort to stabilize some city neighborhoods.

The targeted interventions focus on three major areas around a total of nine schools across the city.

The effort officially kicked off Thursday afternoon outside Clark Preparatory Academy in Detroit’s Morningside neighborhood, on the city’s east side. Other targeted areas include the communities around Bagley and Bates schools in northwest Detroit, and several schools including the Roberto Clemente Academy in southwest Detroit.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The American Federation of Teachers is in Detroit for the group’s annual convention.

And they’re taking it to the streets—and to Detroit Public Schools’ officials—on behalf of the district’s teachers.

Earlier this month, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts imposed new contract terms on the district’s teachers.

Those terms include a pay cut, larger class sizes, and less prep time for teachers.

The head of the Detroit Federation of Teachers has sent a memo to members saying union leadership wants the public school district's emergency manager to present a contract - imposed without negotiations - to the rank and file.

The memo by union president Keith Johnson calls the agreement "a farce" and that it makes deeper cuts into benefits and working conditions.

Emergency manager Roy Roberts announced the new deal on Sunday.

Johnson says Roberts used "the full power" of the state's year-old emergency manager law in crafting the deal.

He says teachers have to pay more for dental coverage and generic prescription co-pays. Life insurance has been cut by $5,000, and teachers now only get unemployment compensation for time off of work as a result of assaults from students or parents.

A day after the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Manager imposed a new contract on the district’s teachers, both sides are staying mum on its terms.

But teacher’s union officials are escalating their war of words against the district.

Detroit Public Schools officials won’t divulge details of the new, imposed contract terms. Emergency manager Roy Roberts is empowered to impose contract terms under the state's emergency manager law.

Detroit Public Schools

The state-appointed emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools has imposed a new contract on the district’s teachers.

Roy Roberts is empowered to impose new contract terms on teachers under the state’s emergency manager law.

The district’s previous contract with the Detroit Federation of Teachers expired June 30.

In a written statement, Roberts says the decision to impose a new contract came after “a series of meet and confer sessions” with union leadership prior to June 30.

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.

kconnors / morguefile

Detroit Public Schools officials say they expect to end this fiscal year with a $12 million surplus. Meanwhile, the district's proposed budget for next year projects the loss of about 15,000 students, and about 1,900 jobs.

Detroit Public Schools is preparing to shrink next year as 15 schools become part of the Educational Achievement Authority. That's the new statewide system for failing schools.

Steve Wasko is a spokesman for Detroit Public Schools. He says the job cuts are not as alarming as they might sound.

"It's not necessarily a net loss of education jobs, public education jobs, public teacher jobs in the city of Detroit - in public schools in the city of Detroit, but a shift that we knew was coming for some time," said Wasko.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for next Wednesday.

A year after students rallied and, in some cases, got arrested to save their school from closure, the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant and parenting teens recently celebrated the graduation of its senior class, capped off with some national media attention.

Rachel Maddow featured the graduates in her "Best New Thing in the World Today" segment (see below).

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported last June, the Catherine Ferguson Academy was one of several Detroit public schools slated to close due to budgetary concerns, but it was saved at the eleventh hour when education officials agreed to turn it over to a charter organization.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

John Bennett Elementary
user Notorious4life / Wikipedia commons

Despite last year’s Detroit Public School campaign entitled “Attendance … Every Day, All Day,” the district’s 2010-2011 attendance numbers failed to meet state requirements and will face the loss of $4.2 million in state aid, according to the Detroit News.

Though the lost money will further hurt the state-controlled school district, the Detroit News reports that the damage could have been worse:

In its amended 2011-12 budget, DPS said it expected to pay $21 million to the state for dropping below 75 percent attendance and had budgeted for the expense.

The state informed DPS in March the amount would be closer to $4 million, giving DPS $17 million more money, which was returned to the general fund.

According to its 2011-2012 budget, the district received about $497 million in state funding over the school year, up three percent from the expected amount.

According to the DPS website, each student enrolled above the budgeted number on count days brings $7,550 in state funding.  In order to encourage count day attendance in its 137 schools in the past through ice cream and pizza parties, “dress down” days for schools that require uniforms, and even a 2009 Radio One-sponsored contest in which students attending school could win a plasma TV, laptop computer, iPod nanos, or an American Express gift card.

- Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

After a four-year absence, the Detroit Grand Prix returns to Belle Isle this weekend.

The event officially kicked off Friday—despite steady rainfall--with a “free day” open to the public. It featured practice laps, some qualifying races, and other events away from the racetrack.

Races continue over the weekend, culminating with the Chevrolet Indy Grand Prix race on Sunday.

Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker says he had “goosebumps” when he threw the green flag to kick off racing Friday morning.

WzrdsRule / flickr

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is threatening a lawsuit that could force a legal showdown over Michigan's new teacher tenure law.

The union says Detroit Public Schools' process for re-hiring teachers this fall violates the union's contract.

The district has issued layoff notices to all its teachers. It will re-hire them based in part on performance evaluations.

Union President Keith Johnson says under its 2009 contract, the district and the union were supposed to come up with an evaluation tool together.

But Johnson says instead, district officials are now conducting what he calls "drive-by evaluations."

"It pretty much involves principals or even retired principals going into a teacher's classroom, staying for as little as four minutes, and then determining whether or not that teacher was effective, ineffective, minimally effective or whatever the case may have been."

Under Michigan's new tenure law, teachers are rated on a scale from highly effective to ineffective.

But Johnson says seniority can still be considered. He says if the district ignores that, he'll go to court.

A district spokesman says it's complying with the law and current collective bargaining agreements.

 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Some Detroit Public Schools students involved in the Urban Forest Stewardship Program showed off their work this past weekend.

Eight Detroit middle and high schools participated in the program on Belle Isle this year.

Their projects included beach clean-ups, water quality testing, invasive species control, and clearing a new nature trail.

Tracy Ortiz, a sixth-grade science teacher at Detroit’s Clippert Academy, says the projects have introduced many of her students many of her students to natural world—and taught them science in a way that sticks.

(courtesy of the DIA)

DETROIT (AP) — Paintings, prints, drawings, photography, ceramics and other pieces of art created by Detroit Public Schools students are on display in an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The 75th annual exhibition began Saturday. It runs through June 3. Viewing is free with regular museum admission.

The artists and their parents attended an opening reception Saturday afternoon.

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts said at the reception it was "incredible" to "see these young people express themselves and find their voices."

via ourvoicessouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com

More than 100 students were suspended from Detroit’s Western International High School this week.

Those students were part of a group that walked out of school to protest district policies, and what they say is a poor-quality education.

Now, some of the students are setting up what they’re calling a “freedom school” to attend while they’re suspended.

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