Monday, March 21, 2011

Detroit’s Continuing School Problems

Robert Bobb, now in the final months of his contract as state-appointed emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools (DPS), has failed to close the district’s budget deficit, which currently stands at $327 million. He has shuttered dozens of schools and privatized many others. He has also proposed closing half of DPS’ remaining schools (which would raise class sizes to 62) or privatizing 41 within the next six months. The Detroit Free Press says that this would make DPS the 2nd largest chartering district in the nation. However, many charter operators believe it is impossible to achieve Bobb’s ambitious goal within his 6 month timeframe.

DPS plans to release the list of schools slated for privatization within the next week and will choose charter operators within a month. The Detroit Free Press says that KIPP, Edison and Green Dot are not interested in DPS, but White Hat and Leona (both for-profit) are interested. It is indeed unlikely that White Hat and Leona, alone, could take over 41 schools and have them all up and running by fall. Furthermore, the charter plan is opposed by teachers who would lose their contracts and union protections, and possibly even their jobs in the conversions. DFT President Keith Johnson says the conversions won’t happen under his watch, but there have already been dozens of charter conversions under his watch, as well as numerous cuts to teachers’ pay, benefits and working conditions. Detroit teachers should not count on Johnson to look after their interests.

If the charter plan does not fly, Governor Rick Snyder could simply shut down DPS entirely under Michigan’s new financial martial law legislation, thus nullifying all existing contracts with teachers and support staff, and place the district in the hands of a new financial manager. This would allow Detroit to create a new district from the ground up with all new contracts offering much lower wages and benefits. While this would not instantaneously achieve the Bobb/Duncan/Broad goal of privatizing all the schools, it would certainly weaken the union and bring them a step closer.

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