Fourth Time’s the Charm?

By Kim Hunter

Recently, the third Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Emergency Manager, Jack Martin, made news when he left that post with a $50,000 bonus for reaching “no specified benchmarks.” His replacement, Darnell Earley, the fourth EM in six years, was appointed by Governor Snyder just in time to prevent the legally elected Detroit School Board from assuming their duties. State law says the elected Board can remove an EM that stays in the job 18 months or more. Snyder made the switch from Martin to Earley just shy of that 18-month mark.

It was “emergency manager keep-away,” according to School Board Member Lamar Lemmons. Outgoing Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson flatly called the Governor’s move an “insult” to Detroit families and voters who have had their share of insults and denial of voting rights in the past few years.

There may be no other news story of the past six years that has been so poorly covered relative to its impact on the future of Detroit as the DPS Emergency Manager story. There is a devastating report from 2011 that shows Robert Bobb, appointed by Governor Granholm as the first EM, to have had a questionable history and equally questionable use of funds.

When Bobb was the elected Board President in Washington, D.C., he invoked voters’ rights as an argument against D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s attempted takeover of the schools. No such invocation came from Bobb when he was appointed to take over Detroit Schools. Bobb gave contracts to those that donated to his campaign for Washington D.C. School Board President and continued to work with those out-of-state firms when he got to Michigan, even though there are firms right here who could have done the work just fine.

Six years of unelected one-person rule by Emergency Managers has not ended the DPS deficits, nor have all the previous EMs halted the downward trajectory: declining enrollment equals declining revenue equals declining enrollment.

The downward spiral began before Gov. Granholm appointed Bobb. Governor Engler usurped the elected School Board with appointees, appointed by both Engler and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, back in 1999. Test scores are far from the best way to judge schools, but, when Engler took over the schools, DPS scores were in the middle of the pack comparatively speaking statewide. No one played fast and loose with the presentation of scores as did the second EM, Roy Roberts, to make them seem better than what they were.

All the clichés about the importance of education seem to have been lost or forgotten when it comes to holding someone accountable to Detroit families with school age kids. No one is held to account for the failure of the Emergency Managers to improve Detroit’s schools, unless you call a $50,000 bonus “punishment.”

Now we have the fourth unelected EM that owes no fealty to anyone but Governor Snyder. Earley promises to make everything better in 18 months or less. But if he doesn’t, we can only hope that the elected board won’t be squashed along with Detroit voters’ rights, again.