Article re-posted here from the Detroit Free Press (http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/05/21/detroit-schools-control/27674557/):
by Karen Twomey and Thomas C. Pedroni, Detroit Free Press guest writers
Proposals for Detroit’s long-suffering public schools have fallen like spring rain these past few weeks.
First, a Skillman-led coalition recommended portfolio-style management of Detroit’s increasingly fragmented educational landscape of Detroit Public Schools, the Education Achievement Authority and charter schools. Then the Great Lakes Education Project called for the complete dissolution of DPS. Finally, Gov. Rick Snyder, after announcing a fourth consecutive DPS emergency manager, declared his intention to split what remains of the district in two, with the elected board and debt on one side and the students and an appointed board on the other.
Missing from all three proposals is a priority for families in Detroit — real accountability for the dismal state of academics, finances and educational leadership across all three school sectors
Instead, all three proposals place inexplicable faith in the state’s ability to rectify the very problems that it, more than any other government entity, has created. Under the state’s watch for 13 of the last 16 years, the district has lost two-thirds of its students — more than 100,000 kids. Meanwhile, long-term debt has ballooned from around $700 million in 1999 to more than $2.1 billion today. Worst of all, state-mandated assessments, including the MEAP, reveal that Detroit’s students have lost even more ground to their state peers since 2009, when the state imposed emergency management.
The closure of nearly 200 schools since 2002 has exacerbated student flight from the district while hurting already fragile city neighborhoods. What little funding the district retains is increasingly steered by emergency management from the classroom to administrators, consultants and contractors. A district that under the elected board drove 55%-60% of its revenues to classroom instruction — a proportion similar to most suburban districts — now allots the classroom less than 47%.
Among the proposals, the coalition recommendations promised the most but delivered little.
Despite its headline-grabbing calls for an end to the state’s emergency management and the restoration of democratic accountability, the devil was in the details of the coalition’s 28-page report.
Most of the powers that elected boards across the state possess to control their own destiny are shunted in the coalition proposal to a new bureaucratic layer — the Detroit Education Commission — filled with mayoral appointees. This commission, not the elected board, would decide when to open and close schools, negotiate collective-bargaining agreements, and determine the amount of autonomy given to individual schools. If the elected board is to be held accountable for results, as the coalition demands, then the board must be granted the powers necessary to control its own destiny.
Also absent in the coalition’s recommendations is any notion of how many additional dollars will be taken from Detroit’s classrooms to finance this new and redundant bureaucratic apparatus.
Similarly, the coalition appeared to call for the dissolution of the scandal-plagued EAA. But the fine print in the set of recommendations reveals that the EAA central administration is designated as the leadership of the governor’s newly acquired School Redesign and Reform Office, where it can determine the fate of the lowest-performing schools across the state.
The 15 schools given by Snyder to the EAA in 2012 are in fact to be returned to DPS, but only after the flailing EAA has “improved” them sufficiently, which doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.
Detroiters deserve better than that.
Real reform means not replicating the status quo that has failed Detroit — state takeover. Instead, DPS needs the following:
■ A fully empowered, elected Detroit Board of Education to govern the district on behalf of the voters.
■ Ongoing training and support for the board to maximize its efficacy and professionalism.
■ Restoration of the board’s power to oversee the employment and evaluation of a DPS superintendent. The current system, in which the governor appoints an emergency manager, has lacked accountability at the top and led to the fragmented initiatives and poor academic and financial outcomes that have been the hallmark of state-imposed governance.
■ The rightsizing of administrative staff and salaries, increasingly bloated after six years of emergency management. The school board and superintendent team should engage in a strategic planning process that encompasses academics and facilities.
■ State assumption of its responsibility for the DPS debt, and not at the cost of students in other districts across the state, as is the case in the governor’s new plan. Diverting monies from the School Aid Fund has been common practice for everything from business taxes to stadiums, and should cease.
■ Invest in teaching staffing and professional development to reduce class sizes and improve academic achievement.
■ Evaluate school closures based on the needs of the neighborhood and utilize schools as multi-purpose community centers to revitalize neighborhoods through place- and community-based learning strategies for youth during the day and community functions for adults and children in the evening.
Karen D. Twomey is a member of the Ferndale Board of Education and teaches in Bloomfield Hills. Thomas C. Pedroni is an associate professor of curriculum studies and director of the Leonard Kaplan Education Collaborative for Critical Urban Studies at Wayne State University. Together they lead the Detroit Data and Democracy Project.