Sunday, January 13, 2013

Give DPS leadership its chance to fix district

John Telford: Give DPS leadership its chance to fix district

January 12, 2013  |  
John Telford
John Telford
By John Telford

Detroit Free Press guest writer
When the state took over Detroit Public Schools in 1999, the school district had a $93-million surplus and test scores that were improving. No other school district was taken over except DPS in 1999, so why us?

Unfortunately for DPS at that time, Detroit voters had also recently approved $1.5 billion in millage bonds to build new schools and renovate existing ones. I believe this bond money drew the attention of outside corporate interests with connections to Lansing legislators, and they cast hungry eyes on the many lucrative contracts to be let.

By the time of his departure as emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb put the school district $327 million in debt via reckless spending, blatant cronyism and a sell-off of the school district's valuable assets. Enter Roy Roberts, Gov. Rick Snyder's appointed emergency financial manager, who set about further dismantling DPS by jettisoning our students into charter schools and promptly leasing 15 of the district's lowest-performing schools to a new and untried state district euphemistically titled the Educational Achievement Authority.

Instead, Roberts should have kept those schools in the DPS fold and legally reconstituted their principals and faculties, but he held a dual leadership affiliation with the EAA and DPS, which amounted to an egregious conflict of interest.

Now a full 14 years after the failed takeover, DPS finally has a good elected board and knowledgeable president in the person of LaMar Lemmons and a capable interim superintendent. But Gov. Snyder has just signed into law a piece of legislation that unconstitutionally duplicates the hated Emergency Manager Law that Michigan citizens voted to repeal on Nov. 6. The slight changes in the new law are merely virtual.

In the case of the school district, unlike with the case of the City of Detroit, the fault for DPS' sorry plight lies with the state, rather than with the good DPS leadership that was in place prior to 1999. But now the schools have been innocently caught in the emergent whirlpool that is taking down the entire municipality.

On Aug. 10, a column by Free Press editorial page editor Stephen Henderson opined that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette should desist from trying to disenfranchise Detroit voters retroactively by using a technicality to manufacture a scheme to invalidate the election of Detroit School Board members on the pretext that the district has lost population.

Rather than force the DPS board back into court to seek judicial rectification and justice for Detroit's schoolchildren, Gov. Snyder now has a rare opportunity to make a truly statesmanlike move: Turn the Detroit Public Schools system entirely back to its elected Board of Education and give me and the board a chance to put our own academic and financial houses in order without the undeserved and dictatorial interference of an emergency manager.

John Telford is interim superintendent of Detroit Public Schools.

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