Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS), has proposed turning 41 “failing” schools over to private charter companies, according to The Detroit News. Under existing law, this decision would have to be made by the elected Board of Education. However, under Michigan’s new “Financial Martial Law” legislation, the power to make that decision would transfer entirely to Bobb.
The financial state of DPS is certainly grim and Bobb’s proposal would reportedly save the district as much as $99 million. However, this is not the real motivation for the plan. If Bobb truly wanted to save the district money and help it out of its fiscal morass he would be doing something to keep students enrolled in DPS. There are currently 8,000 students fleeing the district each year as he cuts arts, music and other programs and increases high school class sizes to 60. (The loss of students is costing the district of $58.4 million per year). Furthermore, since he began his tenure, Bobb has actually overseen a worsening DPS’s debt by $127 million, according to Michael Winerip, of the NY Times, suggesting that he is grossly incompetent or has ulterior motives, either of which should be grounds for purging him from his job.
Many critics believe the latter is the case. Since taking over, Bobb has overseen the closing of many DPS schools and plans to shutter 50% of the remaining schools, and he has already turned over many to private charter companies. Bobb is a graduate of Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy (class of 2009), which trains CEOs and business leaders how to privatize public school systems and he receives a portion of his salary ($56,000) from the Broad foundation, which should be considered a conflict of interest..
Under the new legislation, Bobb would have total authority over academics and curriculum and have a free hand in converting schools to charters. He would be able to nullify the existing contracts with teachers and support staff, effectively crushing their unions and allowing him to further attack their wages, benefits and working conditions. In 2009, the school board sued Bobb and stopped him from making academic decisions, including charter conversions. So he has an axe to grind with them, too, and will soon have the authority to crush them, along with the unions.