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— Just 10 days into his term as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools, Darnell Earley said Thursday that layoffs may be needed to help close a deficit of nearly $170 million.

But as he plots how to right the ship, Earley said he doesn't expect any job cuts to include teachers.

"All options are on the table," he said in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News. "I'm not daunted by the challenge. If I were, I would be in a different line of work."

DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said the district will follow the processes set out in the district's individual collective bargaining agreements relating to notification of any layoffs.

"We do not expect teachers to be included because we are focused on doing what it takes to provide the resources to get us to our end goal — strengthening our educational competitiveness and providing our students with academically challenging environment in which they can excel," she said.

But the newly elected president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers isn't buying it. Steve Conn said he expects the worst.

"This emergency manager is simply sent here on behalf of the governor to continue the destruction of public education and the future of Detroit Public School students," he said.

Earley, 63, the district's fourth emergency manager in six years, is earning $225,000 a year. As the former emergency manager for the city of Flint and former city manager for Saginaw, he's accustomed to making difficult decisions.

"I get it that people don't like the idea of state intervention," he said following a tour of the Golightly Education Center in Midtown. "But my goal is to be the last emergency manager for the district and I must get the job done in the next 18 months. That time frame has been made very clear to me."

Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Earley on Jan. 13 to replace Jack Martin, whose term was ending.

Earley said his immediate goal is to reach the end of the school year in a better financial situation. DPS ended 2013-14 with a $169.4 million deficit and estimates its fiscal year 2014-15 deficit at $164.5 million. DPS's latest deficit elimination plan — yet to be approved by the state — calls for a balanced budget by 2022-23.

"I'm still in the process of analyzing our current situation," Earley said. "However, my goal is to strengthen the district's financial position as much as possible before the end of the year in order to focus as many resources as possible in our classrooms."

Earley said he plans to enlist local universities to help in turning around academics. "I want to define what role higher education can provide in helping our students become ready to move into that area," he said.

Another goal is what he calls a 10-point management plan, which is under development.

"Once it is complete, it will be made very public because Mr. Earley is committed to engaging all stakeholders interested in being a part of the solution, as well as working in conjunction with the other groups that are studying how to improve educational achievement in the city of Detroit," said Zdrodowski.

When he introduced the new emergency manager last week in Detroit, Snyder said: "Darnell Earley has a track record of success and can guide the district as we work collectively and collaboratively to turn around the fiscal crisis and ensure a quality education for the city's schoolchildren that they need and deserve."

Despite Earley's credentials, which include a teaching certificate just out of college, and a stint as an elected member of the school board in Muskegon Heights, some still don't want him here.

"Tell him not to unpack," said Conn.

Earley responded that he welcomes input from the new DFT leader, known as a firebrand who vehemently opposes state control of the district.

"I'm interested in what he has to say on behalf of the members and how they'll help in turning the situation around," he said. "I'm interested in finding out how much a part of the solution he plans to become."

But Conn is not alone.

David Alexander Bullock, pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and Change Agent Consortium national spokesman, said he still doesn't believe a fourth emergency manager is the answer.

"The kind of change that needs to happen requires longevity and a consistent leadership," he said. "The trend is for EMs to stay a little under 18 months because of the way PA436 is written. This is not enough time for a new culture to be created that will be sustainable.

"An emergency manager cannot begin to chart a clear plan toward the resolution of these issues in 18 months while fighting the school board, the teachers union and being tied to a Snyder administration with no clue about the depth and contours of these problems," Bullock said.

Kenneth Wong, chairman of the education department at Brown University, said that with this appointment Snyder is directing his primary focus on fixing the district's finances.

"Earley has demonstrated his ability to deal with the budgetary crisis in Flint," Wong said. "Having worked as a city manager, Earley not only understands the budgetary details in a complex urban system, he may have creative solutions toward a balanced budget for Detroit Public Schools."

Wong said once the budget crisis is fixed, Earley would immediately need to turn his attention to the challenge of declining enrollment and low academic performance in the district.

"As a former city manager, Earley will need to put together an executive team that includes strong expertise in education. He needs to ensure that budgetary decisions do not adversely affect teaching and learning in the classroom," he said.

But Bob Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, doesn't quite agree.

"Simply having an emergency manager, rather than someone selected by the school board, isn't by itself an answer to these problems," he said. "Addressing these challenges requires engagement of staff, community leaders, parents, funders, with advice and assistance of experts inside and outside Detroit. No one person, in whatever role, is the answer."

For Earley to succeed, Floden said he'll have to identify a set of change strategies that include attention to curriculum, support for improved instruction and school leadership, student health and welfare, and community engagement.

"Then he needs to mobilize the energies of key groups to work together to move forward on those strategies," he said.

Earley, who is married to an educator and has two grown children, has a message for the residents of Detroit.

"I want people to know they are a part of DPS as well, and that they have an interest, because many can't go to other districts," he said. "They have a right to a high-level, competitive experience and to make sure the system is capable of giving them that."

slewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

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