School & District Management

Detroit Mayor Wants School Control

By Dakarai I. Aarons — June 07, 2010 2 min read
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Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said this weekend he is ready to take the helm of Detroit’s struggling school district, and supports a petition effort underway to make that a reality.

Bing, who became the Motor City’s mayor last year, had previously hinted that he would be supportive of returning mayoral control to the city if voters approved, but his comments, reported this weekend, are the most direct indication that Bing has a real interest in doing so.

The district, which has been plagued by years of deficit spending, rapidly declining enrollment and poor test scores, has been managed since last March by Robert C. Bobb, who was appointed by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm as the district’s emergency financial manager.

Since taking over, Bobb has renegotiated contracts, streamlined the central office, used investigative powers to look at questionable financial deals and closed dozens of schools.

You can read more about what Bobb’s been up to in Detroit in this story I wrote last summer, and in this collection of blog items over the past year.

Bobb’s tenure ends in March, and Bing told The Detroit Free Press newspaper he hopes the petition effort is successful so there can be a plan in place before Bobb leaves. A more formal effort is expected to be announced soon with the goal of getting questions about school governance on the November ballot.

Granholm is supportive of the move. “I hope Dave Bing will have the authority to appoint a superintendent. That would be enormously helpful,” she said Friday ,according to the newspaper.

Mayoral control of schools is among goals promoted by a group launched in March called Excellent Schools Detroit. The group, which comprised of philanthropies and city leaders, including Bobb and Mayor Dave Bing, released a $200 million transformation plan that focuses not just on traditional public schools, but also the city’s charter and private schools.

Selling mayoral control to voters will likely be an uphill battle. Detroit previously experienced a form of mayoral control during a state takeover of the school system from 1999 to 2005. The experiment ended with the district $200 million in debt and made many residents wary of returning to a similar arrangement without an elected school board.

Bobb and the board have tangled over the past year and a half over control of the district’s academics, with their argument currently making its way through Michigan’s court system.

Photo Credit: Robert C. Bobb, left, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit school system, and Mayor Dave Bing visit a 2nd grade class last year at Hutchinson Elementary School in Detroit. William Archie/Detroit Free Press

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