Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Detroit Students Win A Small One Against Bobb and Broad

As I have reported several times on this blog, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Financial Manager Robert Bobb has been slashing and burning DPS, closing up to half of its schools, and raising high school class sizes to 60 students per class. Bobb has not limited his axe to schools. He has also been cutting arts, music and other programs at many schools. At Southeastern High, students decided to fight back against cuts to their music program with walkouts and a press conference, ultimately winning the right to perform at a statewide choir competition. The following is based on the reporting of Danny Weil, from Daily Censored, and Diane Bukowski, from the Voice of Detroit.

Bob Bobb insisted that cutting the arts/music program (along with his other cuts) was necessary to keep the district solvent. The students insisted he was wrong, walking out of school three times in order to prove it. They also engaged in a sit-in at their school where they were maced by the police. Ultimately they won authorization to compete in the Michigan School Vocal Music Association Choral Festival on March 11.

Bobb was installed as a financial manager ostensibly to help get DPS’ finances in order. In reality, he has helped worsen DPS’s financial problems, increasing the system’s debt from $200 million when he arrived, to $327 million today, according to Michael Winerip of the NY Times. Meanwhile, 8,000 students per year are fleeing the district, costing the district $58.4 million per year. For this financial mismanagement he is paid $425,000 per year.

Last week, the Michigan legislature approved a bill that would allow financial managers like Bobb terminate the teachers’ contract. On the other hand, he could simply convert all the remaining schools into charters and terminate their contract this way. Currently, 50% of Detroit students are already in charter schools, and there has been talk of converting the remaining schools into charters. Last Saturday, Bobb presented a plan to convert one-third (41) of DPS schools into charters.

All this might seem hard to believe except that Bobb is a disciple of Eli Broad, the billionaire charter school funder and union-basher (and Detroit native). Bobb is a graduate of Broad’s Superintendents Academy (class of 2009), a 10-month training program that teaches CEOs and other business types how to squeeze as much profits as possible out of public school systems. Bobb receives a portion of his generous salary ($56,000) from the Broad foundation, which would appear to be a conflict of interest since Broad supports private charters and Bobb has been facilitating their creation in Detroit, yet a judge ruled this ok last year.

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