March 20, 2010 at 1:00 am

DPS parents feeling betrayed

They say they were misled after backing bond to help their schools

Patricia Hicks-Lark, who has a child at the closing Hanstein Elementary, says she's crushed by the new plans. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Detroit -- Less than five months after Detroit voters passed a $500.5 million school construction plan, nearly half of the 18 schools that were to be rebuilt or renovated are now headed for closure or plans for them have been altered.

The changes have outraged some supporters of the Proposal S bond who say they feel cheated for voting for a plan they were told would mean new construction or renovation in their neighborhood, but instead their schools will be shuttered as soon as this summer, according to the facilities plan released this week by Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools.

"It's a slap in the face to the community," said Tia Shepherd, whose children's schools, Cooley High School and Bethune Academy, were slated for $17 million in upgrades but now are closing. "Our community got shortchanged twice."

Any changes to the bond program have to be approved by the state. Treasury Department spokesman Terry Stanton said no requests have been received, and until then state officials expect the bond projects to proceed as planned.

"Generally, any changes would have to remain consistent with the application that had been submitted," Stanton said.

The district is finishing the list of proposed amendments that will be submitted to the state and to the local DPS bond oversight committee, said Steven Wasko, district spokesman.

"There will undoubtedly be adjustments as we go through the community vetting process for the facilities plan and school consolidation process."

Bobb's goals for a "leaner, smarter DPS" calls for 45 schools to close this year and 13 more by 2012. The November bond program will expand from 18 to 22 the number of schools that will be renovated or rebuilt, Bobb said, including a new Chrysler pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade campus at King High School and a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school on the site of the former MacKenzie High School.

What became apparent this week is the original plan -- advertised in bright brochures and PowerPoint presentations to community groups -- has been altered. In addition to Bethune and Cooley, other changes include:

  • Northwestern High School and Duffield Pre-K-8 were slated to be modernized but now are on the closure list.

  • JR King Pre-K-8 and Marcus Garvey were targeted for a combined $27 million in renovations, but there was no mention of that in Bobb's presentation this week.

  • Finney High School, which closed last year, was to be rebuilt along with a new McNair Pre-K-8 on a new $75 million Finney campus. The Pre-K-8 construction will be shifted to a new location, and a new high school at the Finney site will become home to Crockett High School under the plan.

  • Chadsey High School and Munger Pre-K-8 both closed in 2009 but were scheduled to be rebuilt for $60 million. Instead, they will be demolished and the land left vacant for possible future use. A new pre-K-8 school will be built near Wilson playground instead, Bobb said.

    "That's ridiculous," said Angie Hopp, whose son transferred to Southwestern High when Chadsey closed and was hoping to graduate from the new Chadsey. "We don't have any schools in our neighborhood. They say they don't want us to send our kids to charter schools, but they are taking everything from us and not giving anything back."

    The school projects that appear to still be on track include the new King High School, Maybury Pre-K-8 (at the site of Earhart school), Mumford High School, and the renovation of Western International, Denby and Ford high schools, according to Bobb's facilities plan.

    At the town hall meetings last fall, Bobb explained the benefits of passing the $500 million bond measure: no increase in taxes, 11,000 new jobs and creation of 18 modern schools in selected neighborhoods.

    Parent Michelle Thomas put her support behind the plan because it called for a new Chadsey and Munger school in her neighborhood. But now that Chadsey is no longer slated to be rebuilt, Munger is moving to another site, and Southwestern, her daughter's school, is on the closure list, Thomas wonders whether her vote counts.

    "They took everything away from us," Thomas said. "We don't have any vote."

    The closures and mergers are taking their toll on students. Just when Anna Lara acclimated at Chadsey High, it closed. She then transferred to Southwestern High and is fitting in. The prospect of transferring a third time next year upsets her.

    "It makes you mad; you already made friends, and you don't know if they'll be able to go to the same school as you," the freshman said.

    News that Cooley High School, slated for $8.3 million in upgrades, will close brought tears.

    "It's like one big family here and they are breaking us up," said Rashanda Sherrer, an 11th-grader who wants to start a petition to keep her school open. "That's going to be really hard to get accustomed to."

    The bond plans changed after an examination of all district facilities and more information and data, Wasko said.

    "Many of the changes in projects reflect direct input from the school communities," he said. "All of the changes represent considerably better opportunities to create 21st-century learning environments for all Detroit children. We will continue to keep Detroit citizens involved and informed at every juncture."

    Patricia Hicks-Lark, a parent at Hanstein Elementary, isn't so sure.

    Hanstein was supposed to be rebuilt on the new Finney High campus, she said. School design teams met with parents as recently as March 5, sketching out visions for the new school on easels and exciting parents at the prospects, she said.

    Instead, Hanstein will now close after this school year. Its 260 students will transfer two miles away to Clark Elementary, which has capacity for 800 but is serving only 550 kids. A new addition for grades six-eight would be built at the Clark site, Bobb said.

    "They sold us on a dream," Hicks-Lark said. "And I jumped on board with it, and now we've been crushed."

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