Disagreements Delay Start of Student Job-Guarantee Effort in Detroit

By Peter Schmidt — March 15, 1989 2 min read
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According to Mr. Vollman, the compact plans to include all city schools within nine years.

Leaders of the Detroit Compact said disagreements between business officials and educators have prompted the group to postpone by more than a month its deadline for agreement on how the plan will operate next fall in up to six pilot schools.

James W. Vollman, executive director of the compact, expressed confidence in the group’s ability to reconcile differences by the new April 7 deadline. But he said that the compact might have split up, had pressure from the community groups involved not been applied.

“The community groups are so strong that no one dares leave the table,” Mr. Vollman said. “You can’t look these people in the face and say, ‘Not interested.”’

Standard-Setting at Issue

Most of the disagreements between compact members have centered, observers said, on the organization’s ability to dictate school standards and the degree to which businesses can be expected to honor their job guarantees.

“I would hate to think we made a promise to students as to the outcome of this thing and then the outcome doesn’t materialize,” said John M. Elliot, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, who is asking businesses to make a stronger commitment on the kinds of jobs they will provide.

Joe L. Greene, president of the local Organization of School Administrators and Supervisors, said many in his union feel the business community is trying to use the compact to impose standards on schools.

“That’s the right of the school district,” argued Mr. Greene, who expressed concern that the compact would impose impossible standards and then leave school administrators who are unable to meet them bearing the blame. “We don’t need another failure,” he said.

Mr. Vollman, who serves as an aide to the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, which is coordinating the compact, said the business leaders involved are trying to find “a reasonable middle ground” between imposing unreachable standards and having to provide jobs to graduates who are ill-equipped to survive in the workforce.

“Until we know what the standards are,” Mr. Vollman added, “it’s hard to go out and solicit the jobs.”

Business leaders also are struggling to decide how many jobs they can guarantee in a local economy that has suffered high unemployment for several years and now may be starting to feel the effects of the nationwide labor shortage.

“Most good jobs with career paths require more than a high-school education,” Mr. Vollman said. “Fifteen dollars an hour for a strong back is not there anymore.”

Renaissance Initiative

The Detroit Compact is the first major initiative of the Strategic Planning Project, an effort to find solutions to city problems that was originated by the civic group Detroit Renaissance Inc. It has received a significant boost from Gov. James J. Blanchard, who has been pushing the concept for more than a year.

Detroit Renaissance, which is made up solely of corporate chief executive officers, has, together with Governor Blanchard’s new Neighborhood Builders Alliance, pledged $600,000 for compact planning and $1 million to finance the compact’s operation in up to six schools through the 1989-1990 academic year.

According to Mr. Vollman, the compact plans to include all city schools within nine years.


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