Thursday, May 5, 2011

What’s Good for GM Is Good for American Kids, Not

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, like an increasing number of politicians across the country, has placed a business executive with no experience running a public school district in charge of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The incompetent and corrupt Bob Bobb will be replaced by a former General Motors executive Roy S. Roberts as the new Emergency Manager of DPS, with the power to nullify teacher contracts, fire all teachers and privatize DPS schools to his heart’s content under Michigan’s financial martial law.

Roberts, like Bobb, has a similar sounding name and a history of serving the interests of capital. Unlike Bobb, Roberts has no direct connection with Eli Broad, which means his $250,000 salary won’t be further bloated with donations from the Broad Foundation (Bobb’s salary, including foundation support, was $425,000). It should be pointed out, though, that after his stint at GM, Roberts worked for Reliant Equity Investors, alongside Thomas Darden, who did attend the Broad Superintendent’s Academy before being hired as an administrator in Philadelphia (See Broad Academy website). Presumably they shared notes from time to time?

However, the lack of official Broad support will probably mean very little when it comes time to close the DPS budget gap. Roberts will be under the same pressure as Bobb to get results in a district that has a rapidly shrinking student population and funding stream and shares Bobb’s cockiness. The Wall Street Journal quoted him saying, "I'm not going to let anybody in this state deter me." Roberts, like Bobb, is fully invested in the reform mania plaguing the nation.

The WSJ said that Bobb’s agenda of closing and privatizing schools was being called into question, especially by the governor, implying this was the reason for the change of guard. However, considering the governor’s love for big business, a more likely explanation for Snyder’s displeasure with Bobb was his failure to close the district’s budget gap, stabilize enrollment or win the support of parents. Perhaps Bobb was not ruthless enough in his attacks on teachers, and Snyder wants someone with more business experience to be his axe man in Detroit. Roberts would certainly be the man for the job, having served as Vice President in charge of personnel at GM in 1987.

Roberts himself lends credibility to this hypothesis, saying he intends to continue with Bobb’s plan to close 14 schools and convert up to 45 others to charter schools by next year, according to the Detroit Free Press, a move that demonstrates his allegiance to private business and his disdain for teachers.

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