Nearly a year after Robert Bobb pledged overspending in the Detroit Public Schools would end, the district has added nearly $100 million to its debt.
Since being appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm as the emergency financial manager in March 2009 to control the finances of the state's largest school district, red ink is growing, according to district budget documents:
The deficit figures add to the controversy surrounding Bobb's tenure. He's fighting the school board for academic control and he was criticized for accepting an $81,000 raise, before concessions, while the district's books are not balanced. Much of the raise comes from philanthropic organizations, which has prompted the school board to file suit over the contract's legality.
"This is the man that came here and promised all these things, and he's been here a whole year and nothing's been done," said parent Cheryl Pou-Gibson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. High School PTA-PTSA.
The financial numbers have not swayed Sharlonda Buckman's view that Bobb is making headway.
"I have confidence in his leadership," said Buckman, executive director of the Detroit Parent Network. "Although the numbers are not where we want them to be, I think the numbers are probably real and that's something we haven't had in the past in terms of transparency."
Bobb attributed the deficit to a lack of labor deals, rescinded layoffs and matching staff levels to the student population, and said he expects to have the district in the black by 2013.
"My confidence level has never been higher," Bobb said. Asked to grade his financial job performance, Bobb gave himself a "B plus" for efforts such as eliminating millions in inefficiencies that would have driven the deficit to more than $547 million.
Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said: "It's going to take strong leadership over a period of years to restore fiscal and academic health to the Detroit Public Schools."
The role of an emergency financial manager is to balance the district's budget, pay its bills, manage the spending, and establish reliable financial systems.
"It's unfortunate that a person who was sent here to solve budget issues has contributed to creating the largest deficit the district has ever faced," said Detroit school board member Anthony Adams.
Bobb lists aggravating issues
The nearly $115 million budget swing is largely attributable to three factors, Bobb says:
"Last year's budget was built on expectations that I believe were attainable," he said. "A number of events did not happen in the time that we wanted them to happen."
District fine arts teacher Patrick Burton questioned how Bobb was going about fixing the district's finances.
"To try to reduce the deficit in a year or two years without totally destroying the district, is that even a goal, or good goal?" said Burton, who called eliminating the deficit by putting employees out of work, cutting pay and increasing health care costs during the recession "absolutely deplorable."
The Rev. Oscar W. King III, who was appointed in 2008 by the Legislature to the review team charged with deciding whether the district's finances were in a state of emergency, said Bobb has been effective in quantifying the deficit and his willingness to reveal previously unaccounted for expenses speaks to his integrity.
"He's doing what he was charged to do," said King, who sits on the DPS bond oversight committee and who is more concerned over the battle for academic authority between Bobb and the board.
Millions in savings planned
The financial situation will be managed, Bobb said, if a number of measures take place for the fiscal year that begins this summer. Among them: eliminating 2,100 positions to save $128.8 million; reducing health care costs by $47 million; saving $8 million through outsourcing transportation; and closing an estimated 41 schools.
Bobb will unveil his academic plan and a preliminary list of school closures within the next week. "It will be the most comprehensive remake of Detroit Public Schools in probably years," he said, sitting in his boardroom -- dubbed the war room -- with his Cabinet, a large district map rolled out before him and a purple marker noting his closure plans.
Bobb said he'll present two budgets for 2011: one that eliminates the $98 million deficit he's accumulated as well as a plan for eliminating the debt built up over the years. The other, a more radical option, would eliminate the entire $317 million in one year.
"It's going to be severe because it will answer the critics who say you cannot balance the budget," Bobb said.