School & District Management

Detroit and Milwaukee Leaders Promote Mayoral Control

By Dakarai I. Aarons — September 01, 2009 2 min read
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Yesterday was Mayoral Control Monday, as top leaders in Detroit and Milwaukee said the mayors of those cities needed to take over those struggling districts.

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of Detroit’s schools told The Detroit News that a governance change is needed when his one-year term ends in late February.

“I’m hoping that the mayor takes the helm and takes control over these schools,” Bobb said. “The governance structure in Detroit is going to have to change one way or another, whether they are under control of the mayor, under control of the state or under control of the courts. The current government structure is not working here.”

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, used similar words in saying he thinks Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett should run the state’s largest school district.

“I do think we have to conclude the current structure is not getting us where we want to go and with clear lines of authority we can make and build a strong modern school district,” Doyle said at a news conference in Milwaukee, flanked by about three dozen supporters.

The plan, backed by Barrett and Tony Evers, the state’s education superintendent, will go before the legislature this fall.

In Detroit, Bobb is also planning to sue the school board this week: it hired the acting superintendent permanently without his approval--something he says it can’t legally do because he has sole authority on contracts.

Bobb hasn’t always sounded so positive about mayoral control. (In 2007, Bobb, a school board member in Washington, opposed Mayor Adrian Fenty’s successful bid to take over the District of Columbia public schools).

In July, Bobb told Education Week he thought the previous mayoral control effort in Detroit was an “abysmal failure” academically and financially, saying :

“I think the case for going forward has to be made that mayoral control will have to be significantly different than from the control reforms that were put in place some years ago. There’s a lot of money that got washed away.”
We wrote extensively about the deficit-ridden district last month.

This is likely welcome news to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who famously said this spring that he would stake his tenure as a Cabinet official on bringing more mayoral control to the nation’s cities. (Duncan, of course, was then summarily rebukedby the National School Boards Association).

The elected school boards in each city aren’t going to let a governance change happen without a fight. Bobb has been sued by the Detroit school board for what they consider overstepping his bounds, and the Milwaukee school board voted last week to put aside $250,000 for legal battles over mayoral control.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.