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.

The new statewide school system for the lowest-performing 5% of Michigan schools faces growing criticism over transparency.

The Education Achievement Authority will formally start with a few Detroit schools in 2012. That means the district doesn’t have any students or any money yet—except for private donations.

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.

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.


The legislative sponsor of the state’s six-month-old emergency manager law says it has cleared the way for the decisive actions needed to help severely stressed cities.

State Representative Al Psholka’s district includes the city of Benton Harbor.

He says Benton Harbor’s emergency manager did not have the authority he needed to fix the city’s finances before the new law took effect in March.

 “We’ve seen some rapid progress in Benton Harbor. There's challenges there, but if you look at the budget, the budget is balanced. There is a projected surplus next year of $400,000. Yes, they had to make some tough choices, but Benton Harbor is in a much better position: a position to go back to local control with a balanced budget," said Psholka.

Psholka was on the Michigan Public TV show “Off the Record.”

Opponents of the law say it robs citizens in takeover communities of their right to choose their local officials.

Organizers of a petition drive say they are close to collecting enough signatures to put a challenge to the emergency manager law the ballot.

A referendum on the law requires opponents to gather more than 161,000 signatures.

Amy Kerr Hardin is with the “Stand Up for Democracy,” the coalition trying to repeal the law. She says the state-appointed emergency managers are given too much power.

 "It takes away our elected officials. It’s crazy the stuff an emergency manager can do just by fiat," said Hardin. "They don’t have to ask any public opinion, and they don’t have to tell the public until after the fact – when they’ve done whatever it is they’ve done."

 Hardin says the campaign expects to turn in sufficient signatures by the end of October. That would put the question on the February 2012 ballot.

It would also suspend the law until the election.

The cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac and the Detroit school district are being run by emergency managers.

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.

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.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will make an appearance in Detroit this week, just days after a visit from President Obama. It's part of a three-day “Education and the Economy” tour Secretary Duncan is taking through the Midwest.

user jdurham / morguefile

Governor Snyder has appointed eleven people to oversee the state’s Education Achievement System. That’s the system designed to turnaround the state’s worst schools – starting with Detroit.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Public Schools

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts says he’s on a mission from the Governor to make the schools work. Roberts spoke at a public hearing Monday night to discuss next school year’s proposed district budget. Roberts spoke only briefly about his budget proposal. It calls for cutting more than 850 positions, and all wages by 10-percent. Roberts then listened silently to concerns from parents, teachers, and other school staff…some of whom took the opportunity to shout at him. Keith Johnson is President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Detroit Public Schools

Update 3:52 pm:

Roy Roberts' budget plan submitted to the state today calls for cutting wages by 10 percent. It would also trim expenses by $231 million, and reduce contracts by $48 million. As Roberts already announced, the proposal calls for floating $200 million in bonds to help erase the district's $327 million deficit.


The emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools says he wants to work with the district’s unions.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools district is moving forward with its plan to turn dozens of its schools into charters. It’s part of current emergency manager Robert Bobb’s Renaissance 2012 plan. Just this week, 18 organizations put in bids to take over 50 DPS schools and convert them into charters.

At the top would be a charter leader who does everything from fundraising to student recruitment to academic planning. But a study out late last year by the Center on Reinventing Public Education shows charter leaders have a high turnover rate.


Robert Bobb, the outgoing emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, has released a statement regarding Roy S. Roberts, the man who will replace him in that position:

Roy Roberts is an exceptionally strong choice to continue the heavy lift of restructuring and reforming the interconnected finances and academics of Detroit Public Schools.

His position as an icon in the African American community and in the City of Detroit will be of huge benefit to DPS and also a role model for DPS students.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools praised Governor Snyder’s education agenda.

Robert Bobb says his call to have every child proficient in reading by the end of third grade is important. And Bobb says he likes Snyder’s ideas for allowing more charter schools.

"I just think that he has put a very bold plan in front of every educational institution in Michigan. And it’s now up to all of the professionals in education to stand behind him and to move as aggressively as possible."

Elizabeth Albert / flickr

Layoff notices are being delivered to each and every teacher in the Detroit Public Schools.

It’s an unprecedented move for the troubled school district. Hundreds of teachers have been issued notices in previous years. But Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says the circumstances are different this time around.

"This year, because of our declining student enrollment, because of the possibility of some of our schools becoming charters, and of course school closures, we decided to send layoff notices to our entire membership."

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools held the first in a series of parent meetings about a radical plan to close some schools and turn others into charter schools.

Detroit schools’ Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, proposes closing six schools and making up to 45 others into charters.

18 of those schools will close this summer if no charter operator takes over. 27 others will have the opportunity to go charter, but would stay open as public schools if that doesn’t happen.

Bobb says that’s a better option than a state-mandated deficit-elimination plan, which would close 40 schools outright.

Most parents who attended the first meeting at Priest Elementary school in southwest Detroit expressed concern and even anger about Bobb’s plan. Many worry what it will mean for their neighborhood schools, student transportation, and special needs students.

Danielle Clark’s eleven-year-old daughter attends the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. Bobb’s plan calls for that school to close.

“This should not be an option, to close the only deaf school in Detroit. I drive 40 miles one way because this is my daughter’s culture and her environment and this is the place where she needs to be.”

District spokesman Steve Wasko says concerned parents will have a chance to make their case directly to Bobb in other meetings this month.

“We may learn something about a school…that it’s not a good candidate for closure or charter. In some cases we may learn that a school that we thought was a candidate for charter just simply has no interest from a charter. And if it’s on the list of 18, it would indeed close. If it’s on the larger list it would remain open.”

Bobb and the Detroit School Board will also hold two town meetings about the plan on April 12th and 13th.

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.

Elizabeth Albert / wikipedia commons

Detroit Public Schools is offering up dozens of its struggling schools to be turned into charters. And officials say they only want “superstar” operators with a proven track record of academic excellence.

But those operators might prove difficult to attract. The schools being offered up have the lowest student achievement, declining enrollment, or are located in areas that are not expected to be targeted for redevelopment.

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

Demolition on Detroit’s historic Cass Technical High School has begun. But a dedicated group of alumni and supporters still hope they can pull off an eleventh-hour effort to save it.

Cass Tech was and is one of Detroit’s most prestigious high schools. Alumni include Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, and Jack White of the White Stripes.

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.

The Detroit News reports that court records show DPS Board president Anthony Adams is not meeting the Board's residency requirements.

From the Detroit News:

The estranged wife of Detroit school board President Anthony Adams has accused him of living outside the city — a violation of board policy.

Deborah Ross Adams, a judge in Wayne County Circuit Court, contends Adams lives in Oakland County, according to court records related to their divorce proceedings, and that he is improperly using their marital home in Detroit's Palmer Woods as the basis of residency for his school board seat.

Adams filed for divorce from his wife in June 2009 in Wayne County after 31 years of marriage. In his filing, he says the couple separated in January 2009.

One board member is quoted as saying she doesn't have any concerns about the matter.

The board's vice president, Tyrone Winfrey, says the school district has more important things to worry about at the moment.

User thinkpanama / Flickr

The Detroit Public School district received a $231 million dollar loan from the state. 

The loan will help the district with "employee payroll and vendor payments," according to Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the district. He says the loan won't help with any of the district's long term financial problems:

  1. $327 million budget deficit.
  2. $161 million dollars in budget cuts if Governor Rick Snyder's proposed education cuts go through.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek filed a story for NPR about the district's $327 million budget deficit. Here's an excerpt:

With Detroit's public school district facing a $327 million budget deficit, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager has proposed closing half the district's schools and putting up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Robert Bobb admits that his deficit elimination plan could be disastrous for students — he calls it "draconian" — but he may have no choice but to implement it.

In January, he gave the plan to the state of Michigan, warning that it's the only way for Detroit Public Schools to "cut its way out" of its deficit. The state's department of education says that's exactly what Bobb should do.

"We're working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations," Bobb said 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.

Lots of Michigan districts take out short term loans in August to help pay employees and vendors because districts' fiscal year is out of sync with the state’s fiscal year. The Detroit Public Schools district borrows twice a year for cash flow purposes - in August and March.

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

Fourth and eighth graders who took a national science test in 2009 posted the worst results among 17 big-city districts.

The scores are from the 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment in science, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test – which is often referred to as the “nation’s report card.”

Results for the fourth and eighth graders in Detroit who took the test were worse than 16 other big cities that participated.

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.

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.