Teresa Gueyser, acting superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, left, and Robert Bobb, the new emergency financial manager, visit Jane Knust's first-grade classroom at Harding Elementary on Tuesday. He wants financial plans to accompany a plan for student achievement. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
DETROIT -- Detroit Public Schools' financial deficit is estimated at more than $150 million, higher than thought, the district's new emergency fiscal manager said Tuesday.
In his first press conference since taking over the beleaguered district's finances Monday, Robert Bobb said he will present a detailed plan within 30 days to address immediate problems. His first task is to determine the actual deficit, he said.
The district's overdue payments to vendors are also greater than previously reported, Bobb said. The district reported $46 million in past due payments for bills over $10,000.
When all bills are tallied, the amount balloons to $72 million, Bobb told The Detroit News, adding he plans to apply a "laser-like focus" to his work.
"I believe we're going to make a difference," said Bobb, whose salary is $260,000 a year. "But our work is not at 35,000 feet. Our work is on the ground."
Bobb said children will be the centerpiece of his decision making and that his success will be based on whether students achieve.
The press conference came the same day the state released district documents showing the system expects a $12.8 million payroll shortfall this month.
Bobb, who was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm for a yearlong stint, said he plans to ask the state for a payment advance to deal with the shortfall. He believes it will be granted.
"We should not operate a system where employees ... have to worry about whether or not they're going to receive a paycheck," he said. Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, commended Bobb for saying employees' paychecks won't be delayed, but Johnson said his words were tempered by news of the ballooning deficit.
"That means much more belt tightening," he said.
Bobb said he discovered the larger-than-expected deficit after reviewing district documents dating back several years. The district previously estimated the deficit for fiscal year 2008 at nearly $140 million.
Bobb is conducting his reviews with the help of professional accounting and financial experts, district spokesman Steve Wasko said.
Bobb said unproductive district staffers will be let go, and he plans to pursue prosecution if wrongdoing is uncovered. Some contracts are already under review, and three to four will be canceled within days, he said.
This week, Bobb plans to review buildings slated for closure. A former city manager, Bobb said he wants to ensure they don't add to the city's blight.
He also wants to make sure the district doesn't close buildings in neighborhoods where development is being planned.
But Bobb said his fiscal plans have to be accompanied by a viable plan to improve student achievement. "The challenge to the school board and to the community is that you need to have a vision for 21st century education in the district," he said.
While Bobb said he plans to work with the superintendent and board, that doesn't mean "we are going to crawl on our knees" asking to make necessary changes.
Denise Floyd, a parent at Cody High School, said she hopes Bobb's review will delve into how to make the schools safer, perhaps looking into how funds are spent for security.
Her comments came just weeks after intruders engaged in a gunfight in the hallway at Central High School. Cody also recently was plagued by intruders fighting in the school, she said. "He needs to take a look at all schools to make sure our kids feel secure ... in their learning environment," Floyd said.