July 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm

DPS unveils $148M strategy

Stimulus funds targeted to aid academics

Detroit -- Detroit Public Schools unveiled a $148 million academic plan Thursday designed to save 192 teaching jobs, reduce class sizes in early grades, bolster technology and extend day programs for struggling students.

"This is focusing on children, something that we must doggedly do, like a laser beam, every waking hour of the day," Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said at a press conference at the Academy of the Americas. "We know that not doing so over many years has caused irreparable harm to many of our children."

The plan is part of the district's application for federal Title I stimulus dollars, a one-time infusion of money that will supplement basic K-12 education programs. DPS submitted its application to the Michigan Department of Education Thursday and is confident it will be approved by the start of the school year.

"We've got to start somewhere," DPS parent Dee Dee Kemp-Jarrett said in support of Bobb's plan. "Obviously what we've been doing hasn't been working."

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the plan should "enhance learning, particularly in high-priority schools. The foundation of it I think is outstanding."

However, Johnson has concerns over the planned increase in high school class sizes and Bobb's hiring of four educational management firms to help run 17 of the district's 22 high schools.

The stimulus application includes $20 million to fund the contracts with these firms.

Michigan is expected to get $390 million in Title I federal stimulus dollars that fund supplemental K-12 educational programs. Detroit Public Schools is allotted the highest amount in the state based on the high percentage and number of its students living in poverty, but most of the state's 850 districts get some funding.

The department hopes to approve applications by the start of the school year.

DPS' application is worth about $310 million because it combines $148 million in stimulus money and $162 million in annual Title I funds.

Thursday's press conference comes just days after the Detroit Board of Education voted unanimously to seek a court order to halt Bobb's plan to turn 17 of the district's 22 high schools over to professional management firms to boost student achievement. The board has been increasingly frustrated that Bobb hasn't consulted them before making major decisions on academics -- an area they believe they control -- and accused him of attempting to transform the district into charter schools.

"He's counting chickens before they hatch," said board member Marie Thornton of Bobb's press conference before the money is approved.

The talk after Bobb's announcement focused on his decision to hire Edison Learning and Institute for Student Achievement of New York, EdWorks of Cincinnati and Model Secondary Schools Project of Bellevue, Wash.

Board, union and community members have questioned the success of these firms in other districts, including Inkster and Philadelphia.

Bobb shot back Thursday, saying the four educational firms are here to partner with the district and not manage the schools. "Is anyone satisfied with the progress that's been made" at these 17 schools in the past? Bobb said. "Why would anyone not want to try something different?"