June 26, 2009 at 1:00 am

Detroit Public Schools to cut 1,700 employees

Reductions come as enrollment is projected to fall below 84,000

Detroit -- Detroit Public Schools' financial manager announced Thursday that the district is projecting enrollment will drop to under 84,000 students and it is cutting more than 1,700 employees -- nearly 13 percent of the work force -- to reduce the school system's massive multiyear deficit.

The enrollment would bring the district's student population to numbers not seen here since around World War I.

Robert Bobb, the financial manager, has been slicing away at a multiyear deficit, which is still projected at $285 million despite the layoffs. Bobb's ongoing cuts have already trimmed the deficit from a shortfall that was projected to reach between $410 million and $430 million by the upcoming fiscal year, he said. A June 30 deadline to approve a budget looms.

"The great challenge I have is to get my mind around the fact that we have to reduce the budget, but we also have to invest," Bobb said.

He said cuts to the district's 13,880-employee ranks are being made as far away from the classroom as possible. While some teachers and others may be recalled after retirements and other attrition are calculated, district officials confirmed that around 1,800 positions or more will be eliminated.

The budget approval next week will cap more than a year of controversy over the district's worsening financial condition, in which former Superintendent Connie Calloway's administration went from saying it would have a fund surplus to projecting a $408 million shortfall.

Calloway and her chief financial officer, Joan McCray, were fired last year after the financial revelations, with board members blaming them for the budget problems. Calloway and McCray said the district had not been paying some bills for years and had been keeping unbudgeted employees on the payroll.

The latest cuts come amid a worsening economy, projected cuts in state revenue and declining enrollment.

Bobb said many factors led to the current financial situation. He cited the issuance of a $210 million bond in 2004 to cover an operating deficit and the district's failure to adequately reduce staff amid declining enrollment.

He said parents and others should be "outraged" by the failure of past administrations.

Since coming to Detroit Public Schools as the state-appointed manager in March, Bobb has also made a series of revelations about graft and corruption, including documented payroll fraud and the possibility of more than 200 ghost employees on the payrolls.

Bobb also is closing 29 schools.

The upcoming budget will be based on a projected enrollment of 83,777 students, down from the 96,000 figure that the district has been using, Bobb said, adding that the projected losses are based on historic declines and demographic projections. Bobb said the district will launch an aggressive enrollment campaign. But Bobb acknowledged that "we may have to grow smaller to be better."

If the numbers hold up, the district will have lost roughly 46 percent of its students in a decade.

Keith Johnson, Detroit Federation of Teachers president, said the reduction of 1,004 teachers is worrisome.

"When you talk about the numbers being laid off, you're talking about nearly a fifth of the teaching staff," he said, adding there are about 5,500 classroom teachers. "That's a significant amount of people to possibly be out of the classroom. It would have a devastating impact on the delivery of instruction."

Pamela Collins, whose two daughters attend Westside Multicultural Academy on the city's west side, said she's concerned the class size will increase.

"I'm worried," she said. "I believe every teacher should have a teacher's aide."

Jennifer, a teacher who got a layoff notice and who did not want her name used for fear of reprisal, said she doesn't understand how the district can continue to lay off teachers.

"Most of us taught in oversized classes (which the district still hasn't paid us for), so I honestly don't see how DPS can keep laying us off," she wrote in an e-mail. "My school didn't have enough staff."

jmrozowski@detnews.com">jmrozowski@detnews.com (313) 222-2269 Mike Wilkinson contributed