Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bring the feds into Detroit schools

NOTE: This is a copy of my column that ran in the Detroit News on Feb. 19, 2013. Interestingly enough I submitted this same column to the Detroit Free Press  where I thought it would have had a better chance of being published because of the Freep's long history of leaning more toward the Democrat/moderate liberal side of the aisle. I guess those days are long gone.

February 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Telford: Bring the feds into Detroit schools

By John Telford

Telford alleges that Roy Roberts, emergency financial manager for DPS, has undermined him.

On Feb. 7, I met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller to debrief him on how the 1999 state takeover of Detroit Public Schools in the name of "reform" not only has been an abject failure but was unfair at the outset and remains unfair now, since DPS enjoyed a $93 million surplus and its MEAP scores were then at the state midpoint.

This contrasts starkly with its $327 million deficit at the time of Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb's 2011 departure, when its scores were the nation's worst. At my request and that of other community petitioners, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's office will investigate injustices perpetrated upon DPS, including taking a look into our Legislature's passing and our governor's signing the unconstitutional replacement emergency manager law. Its predecessor spawned the so-called Educational Achievement Authority in Detroit, to which current EFM Roy Roberts gave away 15 schools.

The Michigan Supreme Court may yet overturn the new emergency manager law the Legislature passed in contempt of the citizens' vote to repeal the old one, or else rule that DPS should be exempted from it.

DPS' still-abysmal test scores are up considerably this year, and I have a plan to balance our budget within five years. Of course, scores would have risen more had hundreds of our best teachers not been released based on bogus evaluations. I'll need to recall as many as I can if I gain the authority to do so.

In the meantime, I have tried to adhere to Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John Murphy's order to collaborate with Roberts in administering the school district, which is governed by the old Public Act 72 that a partisan appeals court judge resurrected. In his Aug. 8 order, Judge Murphy put me in charge of academics and the EFM in charge of finance.

That ruling remains in force, but Roberts has been unwilling to obey it.

Tomorrow we will be back in Circuit Court with Judge Annette Berry. We expect Judge Berry to specify the departments the EFM supervises and those that I do, along with her advisement to Roberts regarding the consequences if he continues to try to retain illegal authority over academic departments or decisions through March.

I have found it hard to cooperate with an EFM who won't collaborate. On Jan. 9, Roberts wrote a letter to me and 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 five volunteer administrative staff members to report to me — staff the board also moved to ultimately pay, assuming that Judge Berry grants it this power. These board appointments were to be synchronized with a reduction of DPS' central-office administration, which I crafted a board-anointed plan to downsize.

In authorizing new staff, the board meant to counter the EFM's directive to top academic administrators to ignore any order from me that he doesn't approve.

On Jan. 24, Roberts and I had hammered out a compromise to enable two of these staff, the ombudsmen, to continue to function pro bono to benefit the children. The next day he reneged on that compromise.

I remain open to renegotiating that and other issues. But because Roberts has continued to defy the judge's ruling, and because Lansing has reinstated legislation the voters rejected, our most salient option now is to bring in the feds.

They must come with a vengeance to address the unwarranted state takeover and save our children.

John Telford is interim superintendent of Detroit Public Schools.


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