EM: Detroit turnaround incomplete without solid schools

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s post-bankruptcy transformation won’t be complete without a turnaround of its education system, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Darnell Early told the City Council on Tuesday.

Earley, who took over in January amid falling enrollment and a deficit of more than $160 million, came to the council table to share his plans for the financially troubled district and his hope for its future.

“…We all have a vested interested in seeing Detroit Public Schools emerge from its financial difficulties, just as the city was able to emerge from the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history,” Earley said. “Without it, the city will be incomplete.”

The goal, he told council members, is to ultimately return the district to local control, but “we’re not there yet.”

Earlier this month, Earley unveiled a restructuring of the 47,000-student district’s central office operations, a plan he’s said is projected to save $10 million a year and give principals more autonomy when its fully implemented by July 2016.

The changes will slim the district’s administration over the next six months from 60 departments to 16 offices overseen by five divisions.

Earley will continue to oversee the DPS emergency manager/superintendent’s office, and the district is working on a nationwide recruitment effort to bring on four deputy superintendents to lead its other divisions: academics and school support, strategy, talent management, and finance and operations.

Earley has said the district expects to save $5 million to $7 million in 2015-16 from the restructuring, and more after the phase-in period ends.

“This is very important work because it involves the future of not only our city, but the future of our children,” he said. “Failure is not an option because we’re talking about failing our children. We’re talking about failing our community.”

The district, he said, won’t be closing any schools for the 2015-16 year.

“There will have to be some decisions made in that regard but at the time those decisions are made, it will be the result of a collaborative effort,” Earley added.

DPS spends $1,963 per student on administration, one of the highest figures in the state among districts with more than 1,000 students.

Gov. Rick Snyder has put forward his own plans for overhauling the city’s public education system. Among its terms, the plan would call for Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan to appoint a school board to run a new debt-free district and transition back to elected governing body over six years.

Council members grilled Earley on his transformation plans and critical issues ranging from special needs students to retaining teaching staff and being transparent with the community and elected school board.

Councilman Gabe Leland on Tuesday urged the state-appointed Earley to not leave the school district’s elected board members out.

“As you go about your work, I hope that you can build relationships... particularly with the Board of Education here in the city of Detroit, who were elected by the residents of this city,” he said. “The residents that this city elected have no voice on that board, and to the extent you can build those relationships and make them part of the decision-making process, I think we all win,” he said.

Councilwoman Janee Ayers raised an issue with what she claims is a lack of focus on recruiting and properly compensating DPS teachers.

Earley responded that it’s a discussion he’s elevated.


Staff writer Shawn D. Lewis contributed