Published Online: March 16, 2010

Detroit Financial Manager Unveils $540M Academic Plan

The man appointed to overhaul Detroit Public Schools' finances unveiled a shoot-for-the-moon, five-year academic plan Monday that calls for making sure every high school graduate who applies to college is accepted.

If the $540 million plan, released to the public Monday night, ever comes to fruition it likely will be after the district has shrunk even further.

Detroit has lost nearly 100,000 students since 1997 when enrollment stood at 175,168. It has about 84,000 students now, but that number could "bottom out" at 56,503 by 2014, emergency financial manager Robert Bobb told reporters after his state of the district address.

Fewer students mean less funding. The district gets nearly $8,200 for every general education student.

While fewer seats will be filled, there also will be fewer schools and a more rigorous learning environment beginning next fall. Under the Excellent Schools for Every Child academic plan that Bobb unveiled, the district would have to graduate 98 percent of its students, have all of them pass state standardized tests and have anyone who applies to college be accepted by the 2014-15 academic year.

Improving the district's average ACT composite score from 15.6 to 22.1 and improving attendance and lowering the dropout rate also are part of the plan, which would rely heavily on parents and the district's 5,345 teachers

Along with state funds, the plan would be financed by federal stimulus dollars and Race to the Top grants.

"It's a Herculean task. These goals are very ambitious," Bobb said. "It can happen if the community wants it to happen."

See Also
For more on the budget crisis in Detroit, read Education Week's "Decline and Fall" and watch our video coverage.

Appointed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm last March to correct the district's ailing finances, Bobb has spent the past 12 months restructuring schools while cutting into a deficit that now stands at $219 million.

He has weeded out waste, asked teachers to take a pay cut, and closed 29 schools with 45 more expected to be shuttered. But the state of academics was as poor as district ledgers, causing many parents to seek out charter schools and public schools in suburban districts.

The 11-member school board has complained that Bobb has overstepped his authority and has sued to get academic control back. A ruling is pending.

Board members adopted their own academic plan during the summer, but they note that Bobb controls the purse strings.

"I think he hasn't allowed it to be implemented," board member Carla Scott said. "You weren't hired to make an academic plan. Show me where you've corrected the finances."

Detroit's graduation rate for 2008-2009 was 58 percent, compared with the national rate of 89 percent. The district's 27 percent dropout rate over 2008-2009 was more than three times the national rate of 8.7 percent.

Bobb's plan looks to lower the dropout rate to 3 percent and push daily student attendance up to 98 percent.

Advanced and proficient Michigan Educational Assessment Program math scores would rise from last fall's 62 percent to 72 percent next school year, and 81 percent in 2011. The percentage of students with advanced and proficient reading scores would increase from 69 percent last fall to 76 percent next fall.

There will be expanded time for reading and mathematics in pre-kindgarten through eighth grade, and better programs for special needs students.

"Our academic plan will make DPS schools competitive with the best schools in the city, suburbs and beyond because we will be gauging our success not against Michigan's standards, but against more rigorous national standards," Bobb told a crowd Monday night at Renaissance High School where he spoke about the state of the district.

It can work if the right foundations are laid, said parent Ida Byrd-Hill, who has a son and daughter in the Detroit School of Arts.

"Everything around the child is technology until they come into school," she said. "They have to power themselves down to go into a slow-moving school."

The 38 first-graders in Chris Habood's class at Carleton Elementary haven't been able to power up for more than a month inside their room.

"I see a lot of wishful planning," the longtime teacher said of Bobb's plan. "But it's hard to see it when I'm sitting with no electricity in my classroom. There are lights only."

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