Published Online: March 12, 2010

$200M Plan Announced for Detroit Schools

A group of non-profits and community leaders on Thursday proposed a top-to-bottom overhaul of the chronically underachieving Detroit Public Schools as part of a 20-year, $200 million plan.

Under the Excellent Schools Detroit partnership's proposal, control of the district would fall to the city's mayor, while the elected school board would be disbanded.

The coalition says it also aims to make Detroit the first major U.S. city to have a 90 percent high school graduation rate and the same percentage of graduates enrolled in college or post-high school training.

The muscle and money behind the plan come in the way of grants from the Skillman, Kresge, W.K. Kellogg, and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations, and the McGregor Fund.

Failing and low-performing schools would close. At least 40 new schools would open within the first five years and 70 by 2020. Detroit's mayor would be accountable for improved performance by the public schools.

"This plan focuses on children. It doesn't focus on any particular structure," said Sharlonda Buckman, executive director of the Detroit Parent Network, a member of the partnership. "It doesn't matter if it is a charter or a public school. I think parents are sick of the status quo."

Buckman's organization works to improve parental involvement in education across the city.

Detroit Public Schools is facing a deficit of at least $219 million. District records show fewer than six of 10 high school seniors graduated in 2008.

Any plan that includes getting rid of the school board should require tremendous input from the community, board member Anthony Adams said Thursday.

"If there is a real plan on the table that talks about transforming schools and improving education for our kids, I would personally want to take a look at it. At the end of the day, you need to put your personal feelings aside and see what's best for our kids."

Anthony and other board members have been at odds with state-appointed emergency financial manager Robert Bobb over who should control academics in the district. Gov. Jennifer Granholm put Bobb in charge of district finances a year ago, but he also is seeking academic control, something the elected school board has been unwilling to relinquish.

"To me, the board is not the issue," Adams said. "The issue is making sure we have the resources available to educate our kids. The focus should be on coming up with a plan the community buys into."

Bobb's contract has been extended from one to two years. He has said Mayor Dave Bing should run the district. If approved by Detroit voters, Bing has said he would take on the job.

But voters in 2004 overwhelmingly turned down a proposal to give the city's mayor final authority on running the schools. That vote ended a state takeover that began in 1999 and returned control to an elected school board.

The Excellent Schools Detroit partnership would push for a ballot referendum to turn control over to the mayor, Skillman Chief Executive Carol Goss said Thursday.

"We want to conduct a community and civic engagement campaign so the community understands mayoral control," Goss said.

A "single point of authority" is necessary, Buckman added.

"Robert Bobb has been able to accomplish a tremendous amount because he doesn't have anyone to say no," she said.

Bobb answers to Granholm. Over the past year he has weeded out waste, corruption and fraud in the district, closed some schools and made staffing changes to improve student education.

On Monday, he is scheduled to unveil his own academic plan for the district and release a one-year progress report.

Associated Press Writer Jim Irwin contributed to this report.

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