detroit public schools

The first of several workshops to educate Detroit parents on the schools district’s future plans is scheduled for this afternoon, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Detroit Public Schools' Parents Speakers Bureau will hold the meetings starting Tuesday afternoon at Priest Elementary and Central High. Six other meetings are scheduled through April 14.

Thirty schools are slated to be closed this year and two more in 2012 as part of the district's plan to help eliminate a $327 million budget deficit.

District officials say they hope to turn over 18 of the buildings to charter operators as neighborhood schools. Schools not selected as charters will close. An additional 27 schools also have been identified as possible candidates for charters.

(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder insists he has not chosen a replacement for Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. Bobb’s contract to oversee Detroit’s troubled school district expires in June. A Detroit TV station reported Snyder had made his choice to replace Bobb. But the governor insists he has not. 

 "We’re still looking at candidates, both locally and nationally, and we’re going through that process.  My preference would be to find somebody from southeastern Michigan that has the right skill sets and such.”

The Detroit Public School District is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and its latest MEAP test scores were mixed.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan RAdio

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan today. It calls for closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise.

Bobb says national experts and the community will carefully vet the applications to find “superstar” charter operators:

"It doesn’t do us any good to have anyone come in and receive a charter if in fact they do not have a proven track record of student achievement."

Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams says the troubled school district can either continue to close schools, or rethink its approach completely:

"If it is our responsibility to provide the highest level of education for students within our community, then we have to embrace a different service model of what we do."

The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit. Bobb says it will be his successor’s job to finish the job. His contract expires at the end of June.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Even though the district has had a state-appointed emergency financial manager for two years, Detroit Public Schools still face a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Robert Bobb, the DPS emergency financial manager, was appointed by Jennifer Granholm in March of 2009.

From the Associated Press:

Robert Bobb has spent the past two years closing dozens of schools and firing principals in an effort to fix the failing Detroit Public Schools. Yet, he still hasn't solved the problem for which he was hired — erasing a legacy budget deficit that now stands at $327 million.

Now, in his final months as the state-appointed emergency financial manager, Bobb is proposing several headline-grabbing ideas — including a radical plan to shut down so many buildings that some high schools could see more than 60 students per class — in an attempt to wipe out the red ink.

The AP reports that it's unclear how Bobb might use new powers granted to emergency financial managers under a new law signed by Governor Rick Snyder last week. They say he "continues to push the charter school plan which is the one receiving the most support in the city at the moment — even from the school board."

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools. Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend. The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement. Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In Detroit, the school district is grappling with a $327 million dollar budget deficit. That’s led the district’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, to put forth a deficit elimination plan that would close half the district’s schools.  

Bobb himself calls the deficit elimination plan “draconian.” In January, Bobb gave it to the state of Michigan, warning it was the only way for the Detroit Public Schools to in his words “cut its way out” of its deficit.

The State Department of Education says that’s exactly what Bobb should do.

“We’re working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations.”

That was Bobb’s cautious take on the subject last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan’s most staggering provisions—60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools. The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with “regional” ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Word of the huge cuts is just trickling down to everyone. Maddie Wright found out when she attended a workshop at the Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s east side. Wright, who’s raising a grandson in the seventh grade, says she doesn’t like the idea of less individual attention for kids—especially in subjects like math, where she struggles to help with homework.

“The way he’s doing it…I don’t know anything. So the only somebody who can help him is some of those younger teachers, that’s been there. Because I can’t.”

Bobb has proposed another alternative. That’s to put the Detroit Public Schools through a bankruptcy process similar to what General Motors did. It would allow the system leave much of its debt behind, and emerge with a new balance sheet.

Detroit State Representative David Nathan, a Democrat, says he’s all right with the bankruptcy option.  But he says state officials have told him that even talking about it will hurt the state’s bond rating.

“We should allow the district to do that. And we should not sacrifice the kids of the city of Detroit to save a bond rating for the state. Those are MY children in that school district.”

But the state’s Education Department nixed that option. State Republicans are also pushing legislation that gives state-appointed financial managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts. Democrat Nathan says he’s working on a compromise bill that would avoid both bankruptcy and the worst cuts.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Robert Bobb, the Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools, will stay on the job through June of this year. Bobb's contract was set to expire on Tuesday, but Governor Snyder has extended his contract.

A spokesperson for the Governor told the Detroit Free Press that Bobb will stay on the job through June 30th.

As the Associated Press reports:

Bobb was hired in March 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances.

Bobb has started a number of programs to improve education and standardized test scores across the district. He also has uncovered numerous cases of theft and fraud involving district employees and vendors.

The district still faces a more that $300 million budget deficit as state per pupil funding continues to decline with the drop in enrollment.

Detroit Public Schools officials are touting new numbers that show the district’s graduation rate is rising.   Those statistics show a 62% graduation rate in 2010. That’s up from about 58% rate in 2007, when the district began using a new method to count graduates.

Something happened this week which will, unless something changes soon, have the effect of finishing the job of effectively destroying the Detroit public schools. And maybe, Michigan’s future.

The state department of education has ordered Detroit to put in place a financial restructuring plan that would close half the district’s schools within two years. That would result in an  average high school class size of sixty-two students.

User mrd00dman / Flickr

The state Department of Education has ordered the Detroit Public Schools to implement a drastic deficit elimination plan.

The plan includes closing half the district’s remaining schools within two years, and increasing some class sizes to 60 students by next school year. It would also create "regional" prinicpals rather than school principals, and cut transportation services for most students.

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, came to Lansing yesterday to ask for something he has to know he’s probably never going to get.

He wants the legislature to give what amounts to a loan guarantee to the company that insured the schools’ last round of borrowing. If that firm, Assured Guaranty Municipal Corporation, doesn’t get that assurance, it may block the schools from borrowing more money? Why? Because it worries DPS will go bankrupt.

Which would leave Assured Guaranty holding the bag. And it’s a pretty unpleasant bag, The schools are hemorrhaging money and students. Bobb came in two years ago, full of confident promises to eliminate the deficit. But it has only gotten worse.

Assured Guaranty insured a loan for a little over a quarter of a billion dollars the schools borrowed in 2005. Now, the schools need more. They have a new deficit of $327 million dollars.

That’s more than half their entire general fund budget. To make ends meet, Bobb says he needs to borrow $219 million next month.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb defended his tenure in Lansing Wednesday.

Meanwhile, controversy over his plan to outsource more than 800 school maintenance jobs is growing.

Union leaders opposing the privatization move question why Bobb is pushing the process along so quickly during the school year.They also raise questions about possible ties between Bobb and a Sodexo executive. Both men belong to the same fraternity. Edward McNeill, with Council 25 of the Michigan Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, says the deal “makes you wonder what’s going on.”

“And we’re certainly gonna move to have this investigated by the Governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, legislative folks in Lansing, as well as the Detroit School Board.”

Bobb issued a written response to what he called the unions’ “untrue claims” earlier this week.Bobb says the outsourcing will save the district more than $75 million over five years, and improve employee performance.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A group of artists is spending frigid days this week digging through piles of rubble at one of the Detroit Public Schools demolition sites.

Detroit Public Schools officials granted access to the site of the former Munger Middle and Chadsey High Schools to artists from the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios. Jacob Montelongo Martinez is the gallery's creative director. He’s one of the artists salvaging brick and limestone from the demolished Munger Middle School and Chadsey High School in Southwest Detroit.

Martinez says the materials will be used to build archways, paths and benches at a “reading garden” outside a Detroit Public Library branch nearby.

"For me it’s ... a metaphor. The archways are a gateway to the community, a gateway to education."

Eric Froh is an artist who’s spending a frigid day hunting for treasures in the piles of rubble left by the excavators demolishing the buildings. Many of the large limestone pieces have been broken.

"But all this stone we can rework and make it into something new again. Like this," he says, pulling a piece of limestone with carved details from the pile.

The scavenged bricks and limestone will be used to build archways, paths and benches for a “reading garden” at a nearby Detroit Public Library branch.

Chadsey and Munger are being torn down to make way for a new Pre-K through 8th grade school building on the site. 

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Update 11:15 a.m.:

Robert Bobb, the financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, has asked state lawmakers to borrow funds for the school district. The Associated Press reports:

Bobb said Wednesday during an appearance before a joint session of the state Senate and House education committees that draft legislation for his plan would be submitted within about a week.

The plan would include the state helping to guarantee the school district won't go into bankruptcy. Bobb said the district does not plan to file for bankruptcy.

Bobb said the plan would not cost the state "one dime."

Bobb said the district plans to borrow more than $200 million in March. He wants his legislation approved by April 1.

6:35 a.m.:

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, will testify today at the state Capitol. He'll appear before a joint session of the state Senate and House education committees.

The Associated Press reports:

He's expected to talk about the district's turnaround plan including finances and academics. Bobb was appointed as the Detroit district's emergency financial manager by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in early 2009. Bobb has feuded with the elected school board over control of the district.

The Detroit School Board has approved a settlement that could end a long-running lawsuit with the district’s Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb.   The Board voted ten-to-one in favor of a settlement that would give them control over the district’s academics.

Governor Rick Snyder wants the Legislature to clarify the Emergency Financial Manager's Act.

There was a dispute over how much power state-appointed emergency financial managers have when the Detroit School Board sued the state's Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb.

They said he was exercising too much power, and the court agreed.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, filed this report:

Snyder wants the Legislature to rework the Emergency Financial Manager’s Act to provide more clarity on the powers of an emergency manager.

Robert Bobb is the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools. He says many other school districts and municipal governments are in serious financial trouble.

"There could be more in the future that an emergency financial manager should have complete authority over the operations of a school district and/or a municipality, working with their elected leadership."

Bobb says the emergency financial manager of a school district should be allowed to take over the curriculum as well as finances because, he says, money is involved in all facets of school systems.  A judge denied Bobb that authority.

Bobb says he is encouraged by the governor acknowledging the issue in his State of the State speech, but Bobb says he is not clear what is being proposed, and he is anxious to hear details.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools has a brand-new, state-of-the-art police headquarters.

It’s part of a $42 million initiative to improve security in the school district.

The facility includes a detention center, K-9 kennels, and an alarm system that will alert officers when doors to school buildings are opened when they shouldn’t be, said DPS Police Chief Roderick Grimes:

"We have a command center that will house state-of-the-art camera systems, which will allow us to look at the interior and the exterior of every school, 24 hours a day."

Money to pay for the building’s construction came from $500.5 billion bond initiative voters approved in 2009.

Detroit Public Schools officials are getting ready to submit their latest plan for shoveling the troubled district out from under a crippling deficit.

The plan could include a proposal to split the district in two. It’s an idea Michigan Radio first reported last April, and the concept is similar to the way General Motors restructured.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says he’s reduced expenses by more than $500 million in the last several months, but there’s still a “legacy” deficit that tops $300 million:

"We’re whittling away at it, but we have to create a long-term plan so that we’re not in this situation 12 months from now or two years from now."

 DPS officials say another option is a New Orleans-style overhaul that would convert many schools to charters. A third option is to use the state’s tobacco settlement money to erase the district’s debt, or the state could opt for some combination of all the above options. Lawmakers rejected a proposal last month to use the state's tobacco settlement to pay off the district's debt.

Detroit Public Schools is recruiting businesses to adopt schools for academic and beautification projects. Angela Hoston heads the program:

"The goal is to have every school have a partner, and not just one partner but multiple partners. We want to raise the academic achievement levels of the bottom one-third of every classroom, and get them to the highest achievement level possible."

Hoston says each business can work with a principal to craft a unique program based on what the school needs and what the business can offer.

The initiative was announced at Gompers Elementary, where staff from the Doubletree Fort Shelby Hotel have built a garden and mentor students.

jimmiehomeschoolmom / flickr

An experimental school in Detroit is trying something new with its seventh and eighth graders.

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy is the first “teacher-led” school in Michigan. It’s instituted a program that puts students into customized reading and math classes based on their abilities instead of their grade level.

Ann Crowley is one of the school’s founders.

"We had to get the schedule set up so that the three teachers in those subject areas taught side-by-side at the same time, and also have a common planning period together," said Ann Crowley, one of the school's founders. She added:

"The logistics of it, with over 250 kids, was pretty intense."

Crowley says students are constantly monitored for improvement so they don’t get stuck in an instructional track for low-performing students.

An official with the school district says the program could be a model for other schools in Detroit.

Detroit Public Schools classrooms will be getting almost $50 million worth of technological upgrades through federal stimulus funds.


The district’s Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, calls the effort an “unprecedented” technological “infusion.”


Every Detroit middle and high school-student will get netbooks to use in the classroom.


District spokeswoman Kisha Verdusco says teachers will also get netbooks, and an array of other technologies to facilitate learning.


Robert Bobb with a student
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb “has a busy few months” ahead.   Bobb’s contract with the schools expires in March. Governor-elect Rick Snyder has said he’ll extend it through June.   Bobb was dealt a defeat last month when a Wayne County Circuit Court Judge ruled Bobb overstepped his duties by implementing academic plans.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Robert Bobb, the state appointed Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools, will stay on the job through the end of the school year.  Bobb was appointed to the position by outgoing Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm.  Bobb's one-year contract ends in March.

According to a spokesman for Governor-elect Rick Snyder, a deal has been worked out to keep Bobb on the job through June.

The Associated Press reports:

Detroit Public Schools spokesman Steve Wasko says the extra 120 days gives Bobb more time to work out a "fully smooth transition" to the next emergency manager or a new superintendent.

- Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst

This is the season when Charles Dickens is again in style, or at least his Christmas Carol. We’ve all been grappling with our own versions of Mr. Scrooge all year, and we all need a happy ending.

But I’ve been thinking of a different Dickens character this week: Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, who said in response to some idiotic legal ruling: “If the law supposes that, then the law is an ass.”

What made me think of that was the Wayne County Circuit Court ruling Monday. Judge Wendy Baxter ruled that Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Schools, had no right or power to make academic decisions.

The Detroit Public Schools system has filed an unfair labor practice against the district's teachers' union over a substitute teacher dispute.

The president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers issued a letter to some substitutes last month telling them to stop drafting lesson plans, grading students, and holding parent-teacher conferences.

Cooley High School Detroit
user chuckjav / Creative Commons

Detroit Public Schools officials are working to educate developers on strategies for purchasing and re-using closed school buildings.

The school system will host a workshop later this month in collaboration with an historic preservation non-profit. Potential buyers will get information about possible uses for the buildings, as well as information about tax credits, codes and the purchase process.

Karen Nagher heads Preservation Wayne. She says school buildings can be a great buy:

Even though Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is shrinking, it’s expected that there will still be a huge need for new teachers in the coming years.

The Teacher Education Initiative at the University of Michigan is helping new teachers get hands on experience.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Hulett talks to a student teacher at Western International High School in Detroit.