School & District Management

Mich. Gov. Plans Sweeping Detroit Schools Reforms

By David Jesse, Chastity Pratt Dawsey, & Chris Christoff, Detroit Free Press (MCT) — June 20, 2011 3 min read
Roy Roberts, left, the emergency manager of the Detroit school district, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder shake hands at a news conference in Detroit on June 20, where Snyder detailed plans for the Education Achievement System. The pilot program will oversee the Detroit Public Schools' lowest-performing institutions.
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Gov. Rick Snyder will create a new authority to run several failing Detroit Public Schools as part of a sweeping reform package to be announced Monday for the struggling district, sources said.

The plan would restructure the failing school district, which has a $327 million budget deficit, by moving underperforming DPS schools under a new authority to be run by current DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts, according to sources.

Roberts would have the authority to make new work rules at those schools, a process sources familiar with the discussions said could take a year. A law passed this year gives emergency managers new powers to control academic and financial matters and to cancel or modify union contracts.

A southeast Michigan university, widely believed in higher education circles to be Eastern Michigan University, would also be involved to do teacher training in the schools.

It’s unclear exactly how the new authority would work. Details were not being released by anyone in advance of a press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Renaissance High School in Detroit.

However, sources said that the Broad Foundation and other philanthropic organizations will pump significant amounts of money into the new authority. According to sources, Snyder has had several meetings with Eli Broad, the founder of the foundation, which is dedicated to education reform and has assets of more than $2 billion.

Broad grew up in Detroit and graduated from Michigan State University. He made a fortune in construction and insurance and has been a major MSU benefactor. It’s unclear exactly how many DPS schools would be transferred to this new authority. DPS already has underway a plan that would close or convert to charter about half its schools.

Under the plan, those DPS schools not labeled as under performing would remain under the authority of Roberts in the same manner as they are today. There are no plans to dissolve the school board, sources said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is expected to take part via a live feed from Washington, D.C., in Monday’s announcement. State schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan will attend.

DPS officials issued a three-line advisory Sunday afternoon, noting only that a news conference would be held to discuss “education reform.”

The governor’s office said Snyder would participate in a news conference at Renaissance, joined by DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts and Ex-GM executive Roberts, who took over in early May as emergency manager, is expected to remain in control of the district under the new plan. A law passed this year gives emergency managers new powers to control academic and financial matters and to cancel or modify union contracts.

Members of the DPS board of education, which has no authority because of the governor’s appointment of Roberts, said they were in the dark about the plan.

School board members reached by phone today said that the board secretary contacted them about 7 p.m. Friday to say that Roberts wanted to meet with them Monday. However, they were not told the subject of the meeting and were not told that there would be a news conference.

Board member LaMar Lemmons III said, “Wow,” when told that Snyder and Duncan would participate in a news conference about DPS reform. He said he plans to attend the meeting Monday morning with Roberts and four other board members.

“I hope we’re going to meet for them to say they’re going to eradicate the deficit created by the reform effort and the emergency financial manager, and that the district will be fully empowered so that we can refresh,” he said. “I don’t know. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

Member Carla Scott said some board members were concerned that a meeting with the full board needed to be announced publicly or it would violate the state’s Open Meetings Act.

As of Sunday afternoon, she said she did not plan to attend.

“I’m not going to break the law,” Scott said.

But Scott added: “I just hope they’re going to do something that’s going to make schools better for children.”

So far, changes under the state’s takeover have been “making DPS the schools of last resort,” she said.

Anthony Adams, the board president, could not be reached.

Speaking to education reporters in early April, Duncan said big changes were coming for public education in Detroit. He said then that DPS was suffering from a “lack of leadership, and a lack of courage.”

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Copyright (c) 2011, The Detroit Free Press, Michigan. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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