Measure Is Passed To 'Recentralize' Detroit Schools
Lansing, Mich--A plan to reunite Detroit's eight-region school system was passed by the Michigan legislature this month, spelling an end to the city's 11-year-old experiment with decentralized management.
The "recentralization" plan, to take effect after next November's elections, is expected to give more power to the superintendent and could affect the racial composition of Detroit's school board.
The legislature's move followed a nonbinding referendum last September in which Detroit residents voted to abolish the system of regional school boards. That arrangement was established in 1971 in an attempt to give more influence to local citizens' groups.
Critics of the regional system say it costs the 207,000-student district about $8 million per year for the duplication of efforts and also hampers the efforts of the general superintendent, who is ultimately responsible for schools in all eight regions.
More Power in New Plan
Although the new plan does not spell out specific duties for the city superintendent's position, now occupied by Arthur Jefferson, the change is expected to give him more power. Currently, Mr. Jefferson must work through eight regional superintendents appointed by the regional boards. Those eight administrators, as well as the other employees of the regions, are not directly responsible to Mr. Jefferson. The new system will eliminate the regional positions, consolidating all power under the superintendent and the central school board.
"[Mr.] Jefferson will have all the powers of any other superintendent in any other large city," said Phillip Runkel, state superintendent of public instruction, who helped draft the new plan. "That's a lot more power than he had previously, because he had to negotiate everything through a series of boards."
In addition to eliminating the 32 regional school-board positions, the new arrangement will reduce from 13 to 11 the number of members on Detroit's central board. Seven members will be elected from specific voting districts and four will be elected by voters citywide. The members will choose a board president from among themselves.
Board members met this week to discuss a voting-district plan drafted by a committee selected by Mr. Runkel. If that redistricting plan is approved, it could force two separate elections between incumbent school-board members and could increase the black majority on the panel, which now includes eight blacks and five whites.
For example, one proposed voting district on the city's northeast side would take in parts of three current school regions that are predominantly white. As a result, two white members of the Detroit school board would have to run against each other in November to continue representing the area.
Another district would be formed by joining a predominantly white neighborhood with an adjacent and more populous predominantly black neghborhood. A white board member now representing that white neighborhood would have to face one of the city's most popular black board members who now represents the black neighborhood.