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NCLB Outrages

Bobb + Broad + Detroit state reps = DPS Disaster

50 school closures, lay-offs, charter schools in the works

Robert Bobb graduated from the Broad Foundation Urban Schools Superintendents Academy in 2005.

By Diane Bukowski

DETROIT â The alliance to completely dismantle the Detroit Public School system is rapidly growing, including both foes and ostensible friends.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholmâs DPS czar Robert Bobb has announced that Detroitâs children can expect to see at least 50 more schools close in the coming year, accompanied by thousands of lay-offs, to offset an alleged $306 million deficit.

âThe unions arenât involved so far in discussions on the closing process,â Phil Schloop, Business Agent for Operating Engineers International Union Local 547, said. âWe know schools are going to have to close, because we are losing another 10,000 students, but we must maximize our retention and offer programs that will attract Detroit students.â

Agnes Hitchcock of the grass-roots group Call âem Out differed with Schloopâs acceptance of the proposed closures.

âIt appears to me that the state has completed the destruction of Detroitâs public school system through its ongoing takeover, and that a largely insensitive school board contributed to this process, while malfeasance and corruption ran rampant,â she said. âItâs up to the residents of Detroit to re-build our own school system using the money the state and the private corporations have stolen from us.â

In a letter to Bobb and the Detroit School Board, board member Marie Thornton said, âWhat does [Bobb] mean â âa list of candidate schoolsâ? This is not an election. What is a âcandidate school for closure and/or consolidation as part of the Realignment for Plan for 2009-2020â? This is the same warmed-over soup from the last school closures with little consideration for students and academic programming. ... Show me the impact of closing DPS schools, while you continue to increase central office staff to review all proposals and to support data from outsiders who have no clue to the City of Detroit.â

Bobbâs mentor, billionaire Eli Broad, plans to contribute over $466 million towards a five-year contract with an outside firm to review the budget, handle fiscal planning and balance the budget, essentially a new five-year Deficit Elimination Plan like that instituted by former state-appointed DPS CEO Kenneth Burnley. Bobb himself is being paid $28,000 by the pro-charter school Eli and Edythe Broad foundation, and graduated from the Broad Foundation Urban Schools Superintendents Academy in 2005.

âWhile most of The Broad Foundationâs focus is on improving traditional public schools,â says the website for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, âwe also proudly support high-quality public charter management organizations that are among the most successful urban American schools today at helping poor and minority students learn.â

Although the $2.1 billion Foundation pays lip service to support for public schools, its list of investments includes only 19 charter school organizations, stretching from Los Angeles to New Orleans to New York, and now Michigan.

Meanwhile, the Michigan House of Representatives, abetted by Detroit reps, passed House Bill 4047, April 3, to ensure keeping DPSâ first-class status until July 2010. Under state law, a first-class school district has much more control over the incursion of charter schools authorized by universities, community colleges, and even other school districts.

âThis legislation is intended to give DPS and the Legislature some breathing room necessary to enact meaningful reform, without financially crippling the district in the meantime,â said State Rep. Bert Johnson, Chair of the Detroit Caucus. âOur intent is to employ a new system of accountability and mode of operation within DPS to enhance its overall performance without allowing the district to be overrun by outside influence.â

The bill is actually a substitute for one earlier introduced by Rep. Bettie Cook-Scott (D-Detroit) that would have permanently reduced the requirement for a first-class school district to 60,000. It was transformed in the Education Committee, and passed 150-71 on April 4.

Johnson wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit Free Press March 26 championing charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and other measures. In the article, he said legislation will soon be introduced to âcompletely re-structureâ the district.

âI think an open-minded discussion on the effectiveness of charter schools is necessary at this juncture,â Johnson wrote. âIf a parent is involved enough in his or her childâs life and education to decide to send that child elsewhere, because the current school is failing that child, then I think the parent should have that choice ... However, DPS must be made viable â but if there is an opportunity to better serve certain students through a charter system; I want to begin that dialogue.â

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, had not returned a call for comment before press time, but many believe his union has chosen to take an end run around the issue of charter schools, ensuring that while schools close, they will continue to retain members and dues.

âThe DFT voted by a 2-1 margin April 2 to authorize the president to begin the process of organizing teachers at Detroit charter schools,â says the DPS website. âThe membership agreed that the publicly-funded teachers deserve the support and protection of a contract, deserve to be included in Michiganâs retirement system, and to have healthcare, benefits, and a pay scale like teachers throughout Michigan.â

Each charter school established in the city of Detroit takes away over $7,600 per student from the Detroit Public School system, with Detroit schools receiving a per-pupil allowance that is about three-fifths of what many suburban school districts get.

— Diane Bukowski
Michigan Citizen


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