detroit public schools

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has signed legislation he says will let financially-strapped school districts guarantee their bond payments—using state school aid funds.

The legislation applies to all school districts with deficit elimination plans or emergency managers. But it was written with the Detroit Public Schools in mind.

Detroit State Representative Fred Durhal, who sponsored the bill, says the new law should help set bondholders’ minds at ease.

Police officials are picking up kids who are not in school around the Detroit area today.

The Detroit Free Press reports Detroit Police are teaming up with local school officials and federal officials to make the sweeps

The program was initiated with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives by Detroit Police Officer Monica Evans, who was a teacher for 12 years. Detroit Public Schools officials are also participating. The effort stems from a U.S. Justice Department report that found many of the nation's prisoners listed truancy as their first offense. The task force has also organized patrols before and after classes at a number of Detroit schools to help students arrive and depart safely.

The Free Press reports the effort is part of "an ongoing collaborative effort by federal, state and local law enforcement to reduce crime by and against children."

They write the effort first started last year and "netted 63 truant students" during a sweep in April, 2011.

Governor Snyder has appointed a team to review the Muskegon Heights School District's financial records. That puts the west Michigan school district a step closer to getting an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Heights school district asked for a state review of its finances back in December.

The preliminary review found the school district was in ‘probable financial stress’, due to the district’s $8.5 million deficit.

That set the stage for the governor to appoint a state review team to scour the school district’s books. 

If an emergency manager is eventually appointed in Muskegon Heights schools, it will join school districts in Detroit and Highland Park. Emergency managers are also running things in four Michigan cities.

Ford Motor Company

Talking Points Memo, an influential political blog, is estimating that as much as $100 million could be spent on the recall fight involving Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week parents and educators have one last chance to weigh in on the state’s plans for the new Michigan Education Achievement Authority.

The authority is a new school system that’ll try to help turn around the state’s lowest performing schools. Roughly 100 public schools across the state make that list. The system starts in Detroit Public Schools next fall.

Detroit Public Schools

Some Detroit Public Schools are open part-time over the two-week holiday break.

The district’s Holiday Learning Fest program tries to keep kids engaged in fun academic activities. But it also aims to keep them well-fed.

On Thursday, volunteers handed out food baskets to parents as they picked up their kids. Gleaners and the United Way donated the fresh food baskets.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools is trying to make sure students stay up-to-date on their academics over the two-week holiday break.                                                              

The idea behind the Holiday Learning Fest is to keep kids learning part-time over the break.

18 schools have opted to participate in the program. One is Beard Elementary in southwest Detroit, which focuses on young kids from pre-K through first grade.

Teacher Ann Crowley says once her school found out about the program, they clamored to get on board.

frankjuarez / flickr

A political fight in Lansing could mean tens of millions of dollars in un-budgeted borrowing costs for Detroit Public Schools over the next few years.

At issue is legislation that would have allowed the district to make a new deal with creditors. The deal would have given the troubled school system more time to pay off its bonds. But the measures were tabled after Republican and Democratic leaders had a disagreement over an unrelated measure and adjourned for the year. Now officials with the school system will have to come up with the cash more quickly.         

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court plans to hear a case over whether the state-appointed emergency manager for the Detroit Public Schools should be removed from office.

The court announced in an order Wednesday it would hear the case brought by Robert Davis, which was rejected by the state Court of Appeals. It says oral arguments are planned and briefs from those
involved are due within 42 days.

Davis argues that the office of emergency manager should be declared vacant because Roy Roberts didn't immediately take the oath of office earlier this year.

Roberts later took the oath.

The district said in a statement that Roberts "continues to work on the hard daily tasks of strengthening educational opportunities for Detroit students and righting Detroit Public Schools finances."

user steveburt1947 / Flickr

Michigan Radio is giving 2011 a sendoff by taking a look back at some of the year's popular and important stories. As part of this retrospective series, here's a small collection of stories we covered about Detroit. You can also weigh in. Tell us your pick for the most important Detroit story this year (if you want to peruse all the stories we've covered in Detroit, you can find them organized under our Detroit tag):

Leaders of a new statewide school district are looking for citizen input.

The Education Achievement System (EAS) is Governor’s Snyder’s plan to improve the state’s lowest-performing schools. The EAS held input sessions in Detroit and Kalamazoo Monday.

Plans for the EAS have been sketchy so far. It’s set to launch in 2012 with an unspecified number of Detroit Public Schools.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Students in Detroit Public Schools showed slight improvements in the latest round of a benchmark standardized test.

But Detroit students still posted the worst scores of any district in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

The NAEP exam tests fourth and eighth-graders in reading and math. When Detroit students took the test for the first time in 2009, they produced the worst scores in the test’s history.

In 2011:

·        Math, 4th grade: proficiency up from 31% to 34%

·        Math, 8th grade: proficiency up from 22% to 29%

·        Reading, 4th grade: proficiency up from 27% to 31%

·        Reading, 8th grade: proficiency up from 41% to 43%

Some experts question whether the posted gains are even statistically significant. But Detroit schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts says the important thing is a positive trend.

“Detroit had the highest gains of any city in any subject in mathematics,” Roberts says. “Detroit also exceeded the state in gains in reading.”

“Like the budget deficit, it will not be eliminated overnight. But we have demonstrated real progress.”

Roberts says the biggest thing hindering Detroit students’ academic performance has been “instability” in the district.

He says the district will announce in January how many more schools to close, charter, or move to the Education Achievement System, a new statewide district for the lowest-performing schools.

Thirteen years ago, Doug Ross lost Michigan’s Democratic primary for governor -- and that might turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to education in Detroit.

Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts says the district is making headway on its deficit.

The district ended the 2010 fiscal year more than $327 million in the red. Roberts says the district cut that by more than $40 million the following year.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Public Schools

The state-appointed emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools is releasing a half-year financial update on
the district Monday.

Roy Roberts has called a news conference for 11 a.m. to announce a six-month update and revised budget deficit projections.

In September, the district was facing a $327 million budget deficit. Its finances have been under state control since 2009.

Enrollment is about 66,000, down from 104,000 in 2007.

Detroit's schools have lost millions of dollars in state per-pupil funding as thousands of parents fled the district for city charters or suburban schools.

DPS website

Some laid-off teachers in the Detroit Public Schools are being recalled by the district which has enrolled more students this fall than expected.

The district said Saturday in a release that principals at 34 schools have requested more teachers, and that 44 teachers were added to classrooms by October 19.

Twenty-three others have reported back to work and another 22 are expected to return. Some teachers and parents have complained of classes with more students than allowed under the teachers' union contract.

The district says it has 22 classrooms out of more than 4,000 that have exceeded student number limits.

The district ended last school year with about 74,000 students and budgeted for 66,000 this fall. Spokesman Steve Wasko said projections have been exceeded by almost 300 students.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Detroit school cited for overcrowding

Last week, the Detroit News reported on overcrowding in DPS classrooms. They reported on 55 kindergartners in a class at Nolan Elementary School, and that a science course in a DPS high school had 72 students. Now there's news of one school being cited by the city's fire department.

From the Detroit News:

A Detroit public school was cited Tuesday by the Detroit Fire Marshal's Office for overcrowding after a parent complained to fire officials that too many children were in her son's kindergarten class.

Lt. Gerod Funderburg of the Detroit Fire Department said the fire marshal's office issued a citation at Nolan Elementary School, 1150 Lantz.

"They went out today and issued a ticket for overcrowding," Funderburg said.

Detroit home prices on the rebound?

Home prices have been sliding in Detroit prior to the Great Recession, but there are some good signs in Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

Low inventories of homes on the market and increased demand have hoisted metro Detroit home prices by 6.1% since the beginning of the year, according to research by IHS Global Insight.

So are home prices finally on the rebound after five years in decline -- or is this a temporary lull before another big drop during the fall?

Most industry experts don't expect a huge drop, but IHS has forecast another 5% to 10% home price decline nationwide before recovery begins.

An analyst told the Free Press that because Detroit entered the housing slump before the rest of the country, it might recover ahead of the rest of the country as well - especially as the region adds more jobs.

Smashed pumpkins on the morning commute

From the Associated Press:

It was no treat driving on a Detroit-area freeway after a truck dumped a load of pumpkins during the morning commute.

Hundreds of pumpkins were scattered Wednesday across several lanes of traffic on eastbound Interstate 696 in Farmington Hills.

Many of the pumpkins were pulverized as drivers passed through. Video from a traffic camera showed motorists slowly making their way through the pre-Halloween mess.

WWJ-AM reports snow plows later were used to clear what remained of the pumpkins from the roadway.

Michigan State Police Sgt. James Kemp tells the Detroit Free Press that one motorist had a smashed  windshield, but no injuries were reported.

Kemp says police stopped the truck and the driver could be cited for having an unstable load.

user Woodley Wonderworks / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - The chancellor of Michigan's new Education Achievement Authority says his office has posted nine leadership positions that need to be filled before the start of the 2012-13 academic year.

John Covington met Tuesday with the authority's executive committee to review what he has done since taking the job last month.

The authority will oversee Michigan's Education Achievement System, announced in June by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The system will include the bottom 5 percent of public schools in Detroit. A few dozen Detroit Public Schools are expected to fall under the new system. It will expand statewide the following year.

Covington says his leadership team will include a deputy chancellor for Instructional Support and Educational Accountability, a deputy for Business and Fiscal affairs and a chief officer for Human Capital.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Nearly two months into the school year, more than a quarter of Detroit Public Schools are reporting overcrowding issues in some classrooms.

That’s according to an annual survey by the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The union’s contract caps class size at 35 students.

Some schools reported classrooms with more than 50 students. Some also reported lacking supplies like textbooks.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Public Schools district has exceeded targeted fall enrollment by 137 students.

The district says in a release that 65,971 Kindergarten through 12th graders have enrolled.

Enrollment figures are based on the number of full-time students in the district at the end of the state's 10-day counting period. They do not include 3,000 students in pre-Kindergarten programs and about 4,000 in district-authorized charter schools.

Detroit officials expect the enrollment number to increase during a remaining 20-day period allowed for counting students absent, but excused on Count Day.

Detroit had been losing students at a rapid pace, plummeting from 104,000 in 2007.

The district ended last school year with about 74,000 students. Officials say the drop over the summer has been the smallest "real-number and percentage" decline since 2006.

Detroit schools are doing everything they can to get students in class for the annual state “count day.”

The numbers recorded Wednesday are more important than ever. They’ll account for 90% of state aid to schools, up from 75%  in past years.

Some Detroit schools are using gimmicks and incentives, like iTunes gift cards and “get out of homework passes,” to boost their numbers.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Three more high schools will open in Detroit for the 2012 school year as part of the Michigan Future Schools program. That’s an ongoing effort by the think tank Michigan Future, Inc. to open 35 new high Detroit high schools in eight years. Its goal is to “revitalize Detroit’s failing education system” by adding 35 quality high schools in eight years. Three such schools opened this fall, and Michigan Future Inc.

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy has charged 11 people with crimes against Detroit Public Schools.

Only three of the people charged are former district employees. They include two cafeteria workers accused of pocketing lunch money, and an ex-teacher who failed to report drunk driving offenses.

The other cases involve laptops stolen from Detroit schools.

Parents and students in Detroit say problems with city buses and school bus passes are keeping some kids out of school.

The school district gives out free bus passes to many students. But some students say they never received application forms, and the schools don’t have enough passes.

District policy says all Detroit students can ride for free in September with last year’s bus passes. But many students lost those over the summer.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Attendance rates for Detroit Public Schools have jumped dramatically since last week – when only about two-thirds of kids expected for the first day of classes actually showed up.

Close to 56,000 students were in school on Monday. That’s about 12,000 more than the week before.

School district spokesman Steve Wasko says over the past week teams of attendance agents and volunteers have been going door-to-door to find out why students are missing. He says in many cases there’s some obstacle.

"Whether that’s a transportation concern, something we’re frankly finding more and more, and it’s an unfortunate thing, and in some cases parents saying I’m planning on sending my child to school but I have to be honest with you I can’t afford the school uniform, so we’re trying to make ends meet and grab a few dollars for that."

The school district needs to hit 75 percent of its enrollment target in order to avoid financial penalties from the state. Wasko says Monday’s attendance was a solid 85 percent.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

When U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Detroit last week, he brought up the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program. He called it the “best economic development tool” for a city, and urged Detroit to develop something similar.

It’s no secret that Detroit Public Schools have long been plagued by chronic attendance problems. Now, the district is turning to students themselves to figure out why. Students from a number of Detroit schools lined up at a forum Friday, to tell school officials why so many of their peers don’t come to class regularly.

Among the most common complaints: high teacher turnover, classrooms without proper supplies, a lack of parental involvement, and transportation issues.

Officials for the Detroit Public Schools say 43,660 students attended the first day of school Tuesday, out of 79,617 enrolled.

The district doesn’t expect that many kids to ever show up. They’ve set an attendance target of about 65,000 students for the school year.

It’s unclear how many students simply didn’t make it to school, and how many transferred to other districts.


Prosecutors have dropped charges against 10 people who were arrested for civil disobedience at a Detroit school in April.

Students and a teacher at the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant and parenting teens were arrested during a sit-on to protest the school closing.

The Detroit Public Schools later announced that a charter operator would take over the school.

The board that will run the statewide district for Michigan’s lowest-performing schools met for the first time in Detroit Thursday.

Governor Snyder says the Education Achievement System will eventually take on the bottom 5% of schools across the state, starting in Detroit in 2012.

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts is also heading the EAS. That’s a concern for some, including Detroit Federation of Teachers Vice President Mark O’Keefe.