DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS
A Place Where $500 Million Could Be Spent Wisely?
Consider the following about the Detroit Public Schools:
? The district’s deficit is estimated at over $300 million dollars. Twenty-three schools will close, and 600 teachers will be laid off.
? The school board fired the district’s last two superintendents—William Coleman III in March 2007 and Connie Calloway in December 2008, prompting a lawsuit from Coleman (which was settled in March 2009) and a challenge by Calloway.
? The board fired the district’s CFO in December 2008, prompting another lawsuit.
? If the plaintiffs in all pending lawsuits against the district prevail, the district could have to pay nearly $36 million, according to a story in The Detroit News.
? Between 2003 and 2008, the number of enrolled students declined from 150,000 to 104,000, mostly from families moving out of the district or sending their children to charter schools.
? Mike Flanagan, Michigan’s state superintendent of public instruction, declared in December that the district was in a state of financial emergency.
Into this mix, DPS is slated to receive at least $500 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
But critics who see DPS as a financial sinkhole have had to take a second look. The declaration of DPS as a district in financial emergency allowed Michigan’s governor, Jennifer Granholm, to appoint Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager, to stabilize the district’s finances and root out corruption. After a month on the job, Bobb, along with a three-person team he appointed, had uncovered financial irregularities so large that he had to increase an earlier deficit estimate by over $100 million.
Bobb, a city administrator and Fellow of the 2005 Broad Foundation Urban Schools Superintendents Academy, stated at an April 2 presentation to the school board, “Some people are going to have to get on board, or they’re going to have to be thrown overboard.”
Bobb says he will not use stimulus funds to fix the deficit. Carla Scott, school board president, agrees the money must not be used to fix what she calls “failing financial practices.” “This can’t just be a magic patch,” she says.
After a March meeting of urban school officials with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Scott spoke about the need to use the initial stimulus money for reforms such as lengthening the school day and school year. Duncan believes that such reforms are essential for urban districts where low-income and often poorly educated parents cannot provide the opportunities for their children at home and at places such as summer camp that many middle and upper class children take for granted.
In order to institute such reforms in Detroit, however, Scott says the district and its teachers union must change how contracts are written. She explains that under the current contract, lengthening the school day and year is not possible.
She believes contracts will need to change not just in Detroit but nationwide. “Nationally, we should know what it takes to protect teachers’ rights. There should be a standard in terms of what teachers make,” she says. “The contract should be about benefits and protecting teachers’ rights. It should not be about what happens day to day in the classroom and in the schools.”
With the district’s contract with the Detroit Federation of Teachers about to expire at the end of the school year, the district in the midst of a rigorous financial overhaul, and millions of new federal dollars about to arrive, it may be now or never to make big changes.
But what will happen when the one-year contracts expire for Bobb and his team? Fearing the district will be in the same financial conundrum as before, some, including the editorial boards of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, are advocating for mayoral control. Duncan believes this can address the problem of administrator turnover, and he has supported it for Detroit, as has Gov. Granholm.
Others, however, are not so sure, given the state of Detroit in general and recent turmoil in the mayor’s office. Former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned in September 2008, served 99 days in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice. Kenneth Cockrel Jr., city council president, became acting mayor after Kilpatrick’s resignation and is running against businessman and former NBA star Dave Bing in a special runoff election to finish Kilpatrick’s term, which expires in January 2010. At that time, whoever wins the November mayoral contest (after having first won the August primary) will take office for a full four-year term. Both Cockrel and Bing support mayoral control.
Margaret Spellings has joined a new advisory board for the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which will oversee the organization’s efforts to train and support leaders in urban districts.
CHIEF MATH TEACHER
Kichoon Yang, provost and professor at Northwest Missouri State University, has been named executive director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. He will begin his new position on July 1.
Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of the St. Paul (Minn.) School District, in July will become head of the Austin Independent School District, the third-largest district in Texas. Carstarphen is 39 years old.
Todd Helms, the former superintendent of the Clyde-Green Springs Exempted Village Schools in Ohio, has been indicted by a Sandusky County grand jury on 19 criminal counts related to the theft of almost $300,000 from the district.
Melinda George, senior director of PBS TeacherLine and National Education Partnerships, has been appointed to the advisory board of the Mom Congress on Education and Learning, a new initiative developed by Parenting magazine.
Smaller Is Better in Oakland
Small schools in the Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District are outperforming their neighboring larger schools, according to a report released in April by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform. The report, “Building a Districtwide Small Schools Movement,” covers the past six years of a campaign launched in 1998 by Oakland Community Organizations, a faith-based group.
The campaign began in order to address the large disparities in achievement between schools in the “hills,” whose students are primarily whites from wealthier families, and those in the “flatlands,” which serve mostly black and Hispanic students from low-income families. It has spearheaded the creation of 48 small schools in the flatlands at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The report documents consistently higher achievement scores and graduation rates at these schools, as well as improvements in school safety, parent-teacher relationships, and professional development.
The report can be downloaded at www.piconetwork.org/ocosmallschools.