If it Ain’t Broke, Get Rid of It?

By Denzel McCampbell

Ask many folks in and around the city of Detroit about the term “emergency manager” and you may get a response related to Kevyn Orr or the bankruptcy that the city went through recently.

What about the names Robert Bobb, Roy Roberts, Jack Martin, and Darnell Earley? These are the names of the four emergency managers who have been appointed to oversee Detroit Public Schools (DPS) over the last six years.

Robert Bobb was appointed the emergency financial manager for DPS in 2009. It should be noted that Bobb was appointed under a much narrower law than the current emergency manager statute – yes, the current law that was rejected by the people of Michigan and then passed again by the legislature with protections to prevent the people from having further say. During Bobb’s tenure as an EM, he created the independent Office of Inspector General, which was tasked with preventing waste and corruption in the district.

While emergency managers and their decisions have been controversial from the start, an inspector general’s office could be viewed as one of the least problematic decisions. The office has brought about $19 million back to the school district during its six years of existence. A silver lining, right?

During the time of Bobb’s appointment DPS was (and still is) a district losing students and money at a fast pace. So, it makes sense to create an office to make sure that no money was being used in a way other than what it was intended for. Preventing and stopping corruption is good for students, parents, and taxpayers alike.

Now fast forward to 2015. DPS has seen four emergency managers, three of which have operated under the previously stated law that voters rejected. The elected school board has been stripped of the duties that Detroiters rightfully voted to give them, teacher wages have been cut, class sizes have increased, and schools have closed. Yet with all of these measures that were presented by the emergency managers as cuts that would bring the district out of a budget deficit, Detroiters still have a school system deeply in the red. Six years of emergency management later, the children are still suffering.

DPS and the citizens have received bad news time after time about their school system. So the office of inspector general saving Detroit taxpayers $19 million is definitely a silver lining to all of the negatives that emergency management has brought to the district – until now.

Last week, the current emergency manager of DPS, Darnell Earley, announced that he has eliminated the inspector general’s office. According to the Detroit Free Press, Earley says that he plans to combine the inspector general’s position, which once had a staff of eight, with the position of auditor general. That seems completely logical, right? Get rid of the department that has been working to prevent misuse of funds and combine its duties with a different position (which needs a full staff in itself) to create one singular position. Earley is taking the large function of two areas of the district that deal with accountability and turning them into one position.

Detroiters have been fed line after line about how emergency management would “save” their school district. Yet year after year they’ve witnessed the district lose money and students, in addition to an erosion in the quality of the curriculum. The news of an elimination of a department which has delivered results along with accountability is yet another stab in the back of the people of Detroit. Where’s the responsibility in this? Where is the consultation with the parents and residents of the district?

Just imagine if the school board were in power and they made this move? Outrage would have certainly ensued. Parents and residents would have a body to hold accountable, they would have open board meetings to voice their grievances, and ultimately, they would have elections to vote out those who made decisions against their wishes. They do not have that power with an unelected emergency manager.

It’s time to end emergency management in Detroit Public Schools and across Michigan. Decisions that are against the best interest of the people are being forced upon communities. Our children are suffering and the people have no recourse. The people did not want emergency management in the first place. It is time to listen to us.