schools

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The Flint school board sent lay-off notices to almost all of their superintendents, principals, and other administrators, according to the Flint Journal. Linda Thompson, the paper said, was the only administrator who did not receive a notice.

From the Flint Journal:

The move comes as the district wrestles with projected revenues of $20 million to $25 million less than projected expenditures for the 2011-12 school year.

The measure is something of a technicality, a precaution that allows the district flexibility when the time comes to decide how many administrators will stay on board, said Thompson.

Thompson said its hard to predict when the district will know precisely what it's revenues for next year will be and how many  administrators will be called back.

"When are they going to settle what's happening at the state level?" she asked.

School districts across the state are anxiously awaiting state budget decisions in Lansing.

In the past few years, the districts have had to make fiscal decisions with no firm guidance from legislators in Lansing while they haggled over the state's budget well past fiscal planning deadlines.

Governor Rick Snyder hopes to change that. He's set a deadline of May 31st for legislators to settle on the budget.

The Flint Journal reports on cuts expected, "Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget includes a $300 per-pupil cut to school aid that comes on top of an already-planned $170 cut. Factoring in an expected rise in rates schools pay to a state retirement pool and districts across Michigan are expecting $700 less per student next year."

The emergency financial manager for Detroit's public schools is floating a new proposal to cut into the district's costs by turning over the operations of 41 academically struggling schools to outside groups or charter school operators.  

The district says Saturday in a release that Robert Bobb's "Renaissance Plan 2012" would reduce operating costs by up to $99 million and address the district's declining enrollment heading into the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. It also would mean closing fewer schools as called for in a state-approved plan to eliminate the district's $327 million legacy deficit.

The deficit elimination plan would close 70 schools and increase class sizes in some high schools to 62 students. Bobb has said that plan would not be good for the district or students.

Kevin Wong / Flickr

The recent debates about school funding and public employee benefits have teachers in Michigan feeling defensive.  South Lyon East High School Social Studies teacher Keith Kindred has these thoughts:

Last year about this time, I did a commentary for Michigan Radio describing the copious amount of time I had to think while I proctored state proficiency exams given to high school juniors. You may remember I used much of that time to reflect on all the wrath being directed at teachers.

Recent events in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even here in Michigan suggest I may have been prescient in recognizing how severe the disconnect between teachers and the public had become, but they also prove that my plea fell on deaf ears. Clearly, the anger I observed a year ago was but a preview and, moreover, my attempt to plead for both common sense and common ground was a failure.

So in the spirit of perseverance that all good teachers instill in their students, I want to try again.

Ready? Okay, here goes: Are people insane?

The Michigan Board of Education has extended the contract of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, the Associated Press reports. The AP reports:

The decision means Flanagan will remain on the job until 2014. The extension doesn't come with a salary increase for Flanagan, who currently earns $183,995.

Flanagan was first appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2005.

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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.

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The Michigan Civil Rights Commission wants public input about bullying. The commission works to prevent and investigate discrimination complaints under state civil rights laws. It’s holding a series of forums across the state to collect the information in hopes of tackling what they say is a growing problem.

Ron Reiring / Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is in New Orleans gathering ideas on how to rebuild a devastated city.

The Associated Press reports:

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is meeting with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to discuss that city's recovery more than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the 9th Ward and

other parts of the Gulf Coast. Bing spokeswoman Karen Dumas says that both mayors were

preparing to take a walking tour of parts of New Orleans on Monday, and that the city bears "a lot of similarities to Detroit."

Bing is working to strengthen Detroit's most viable neighborhoods while formulating plans to deal with huge swaths of vacant land. He has said incentives will be used to encourage people to move into certain areas of Detroit, which has lost more than half its population since peaking at nearly 2 million in the 1950s. He plans to present a study April 1.

Michigan Radio traveled to New Orleans last year to learn some lessons as well. Rebuilding Detroit Schools: ATale of Two Cities looked at school reform in Detroit and New Orleans. The program explored successes and failures in New Orleans to see whether the lessons learned in New Orleans could offer some insights for education reform in Detroit.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids Public Schools is revising how it lets people comment at school board meetings. The district has a unique policy (see page 51-54). A Grand Rapids school board member says he couldn’t find any other district in Michigan with a similar provision.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Board of Education will meet Tuesday to go over a proposed settlement with Robert Bobb, the district’s emergency financial manager.

A Wayne County judge ruled last month that the Detroit school board is in charge of academics for the district, not the district’s financial manager. But both sides have to come to an agreement on how to implement the ruling, since Bobb’s team implemented several classroom reforms while the lawsuit was pending.

Anthony Adams is the school board’s president. He says it’s in the district’s best interest to keep most of  Bobb’s reforms in place:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A new report out today paints a grim picture of Michigan’s schools.

Education Trust-Midwest says students in Michigan’s schools are not doing as well as test scores suggest, and the state’s education problems reach far beyond Detroit.

“We are far from a leader in education right now. Though glowing reports from state education leaders regularly inform us that the vast majority of our children (around 80 percent in elementary and middle schools) are meeting state standards, performance plummets when those students take the more rigorous national examinations.”

The report goes on to cite what it calls Michigan’s inflated standardized test scores (you can see some of the charts in the slide show above).

Its author, Amber Arellano, a former Detroit Free Press education reporter and Detroit News editorial board writer, says people tend to think of Detroit as the only school district in the state with major problems:

“Michigan really has a statewide education problem. This isn’t just about Detroit kids. It’s not just about African American kids. It’s about white kids, it’s about brown kids, it’s about black kids. It’s really about kids all over the state.”

Arellano says it might surprise people to know that students in other districts – including Flint, Lansing, Pontiac, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo – have all registered lower proficiency rates than their Detroit counterparts.

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Update: 3:23 p.m.:

The Detroit News has changed the number of schools it reported in the DPS school closing plan -  going from 100 schools to 70 schools.

2:38 p.m.:

Facing a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a new plan calls for closing more schools in Detroit.

The Detroit News reports:

A proposed deficit-elimination plan for Detroit Public Schools calls for shuttering 100 additional schools by 2013 and increasing class sizes from 35 to 62 for high school students by 2014.

The plan was submitted to state education officials by the Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb.

DPS and Robert Bobb are in the midst of a current school closing plan. It calls for closing 45 schools over three years. Here's a map of the current closing plan:



View Michigan School Closures in a larger map

Robert Bobb
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Update: 5:13 pm:

Emergency financial manager Robert Bobb and his team have already put in place several classroom reforms. Some of the reforms include two hours of math and reading instruction every day for elementary students, requiring all 7th graders to take pre-Algebra, and conducting "quarterly assessments" of students' skills.

Robert Bobb helps student with homework
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Free Press reports that after Robert Bobb's clashes with the Detroit school board, things at least looked a little better at last night's school board meeting:

The Detroit school board and its state-appointed emergency financial manager appeared to mend fences Thursday night, agreeing to work to position the school board to regain budgetary authority.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Students are saying their classrooms are overcrowded this year. WDIV reports of some advanced placement classes with 60 students in them. 

It's like a race to get up there, and if you don't have a seat, you're just standing there for the whole hour. It's just tough. It's hard to see the board because everybody is in the way and I can't really focus on my work.

Says Mumford High School senior Glen Miller.

There’s a lot of change happening in Detroit. And city leaders face a lot of challenges – like what to do with vacant land and dilapidated building and a lack of basic amenities in many parts of the city. School leaders have their own challenges.

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