By Dr. John Telford

John-Telford-207x300As the Detroit Public School Board’s appointed pro bono interim Superintendent, I met on February 7, 2013 with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller in my office in the Fisher Building to debrief him on how the 1999 state takeover of DPS in the name of “reform” had been an abject failure. I informed him that the takeover was also unfair at the outset, since DPS had enjoyed a $114 million surplus and its MEAP scores were then at the state mid-point and rising. This contrasts starkly with DPS’ $327 million deficit at the time of Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s departure twelve years later, when its scores were the nation’s worst—and it contrasts tragically with its true current deficit of more than $400 million. Those still-abysmal scores nevertheless improved considerably in 2012, and they would have risen still more had hundreds of DPS’ best teachers not been released on bogus ten-minute evaluations. At the Board’s request and those of a host of other community petitioners, including the Sugar Law Center and Helen Moore of Keep the Vote, No Takeover, the U.S. Attorney General was to have looked into both recent and long-term injustices visited upon DPS, which was to have included an investigation of our legislature’s passing and our governor’s signing Public Act 436, a reinstatement of the virtually identical (and thus illegal) PA 4—the Emergency Manager law which Michigan’s citizens had voted against on Nov. 6, 2012. It was hoped that in the meantime, the Michigan Supreme Court would overturn this unconstitutional new EM law—or else that it would exempt DPS from PA 436 entirely, since the 1999 takeover was unjust. The old PA 4 facilitated the creation of the gang-infested, bankrupt, and educationally non-achieving “Educational Achievement” Authority in Detroit, to which then-Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts blithely gave away fifteen schools in 2012.

Throughout 2012, I tried to adhere to Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John Murphy’s order to collaborate with EFM Roberts in administering DPS, which was then governed by the old Public Act 72 that a partisan appeals court judge had resurrected. In his August 8, 2012 order (which also adhered to PA 72), Judge Murphy put me in charge of academics and the EFM in charge of finance. However, Mr. Roberts ignored that ruling, so the Board took him back to court on February 20, 2013 with Judge Annette Berry, who then re-emphasized that I would administer academics and Roberts would supervise the financial side of the house. Throughout March, 2013, I did some fast groundwork to set the stage for the anticipated arrival of the Feds. For those previous several months, I had found it close to impossible to collaborate with an EFM who wouldn’t cooperate. One example of this lack of cooperation occurred on January 9, 2013, when Mr. Roberts wrote a letter to me and then-Board president LaMar Lemmons which he circulated to the media and to all DPS staff declaring his intent to rescind the Board’s move to appoint four volunteer administrative staff members to report to me, including my assistant superintendent Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a former DPS teacher and now a state representative. The appointments were to be synchronized with the implementation of a plan which I had crafted to downsize the central office administration.

On January 24, 2013, Mr. Roberts and I had hammered out a compromise to enable two of these staff—former DPS administrators Claude Tiller and Robert Thomas—to continue to function pro bono as Ombudsmen to the benefit of DPS students, parents, and staff, but the next day he reneged.   Because he had been able to defy Judge Murphy’s order, and because he had then similarly defied Judge Berry’s February 20 order, and because Lansing had reinstated the legislation that the state’s voters had rejected, our next option was to bring in the U.S. Attorney General in the hope that he would come with a commitment to get the democratically elected Board back in full charge of the district—but he never came. The Board’s only recourse now to regain its rightful authority and restore that of its duly appointed Superintendent is its pending array of relevant multi-issue appeals in Federal Court.

For ten contentious months in 2012-2013, interim Superintendent John Telford shared legal leadership of the Detroit Public Schools with Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts. The March 28, 2013 enactment of PA 436 enabled the Emergency Manager to fire him—and he immediately did. Get Dr. Telford’s crusading books at, hear him Sundays at 4:30 on WCHB Newstalk1200, e-mail him at, and call him at (313) 460-8272.