DPS announces restructuring as coalition report nears

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Darnell Earley on Tuesday announced a restructuring plan aimed at stabilizing the district’s finances, boosting academic performance and preparing for possible changes to be recommended by a coalition studying ways to improve the city’s schools.

Earley said the restructuring could include school closings.

“Closings are on the table, as well as consolidating other schools,” he said.

The district continues to deal with a deficit that stood at $170 million as of June 30, 2014, according to Earley.

“We plan to guide the district toward financial stability and educational competitiveness,” he said. “2016 will be a transitional year targeting cost reductions. We’re reviewing contracts, policies and procedures, primarily within the central office.”

He said they’re trying to avoid teacher layoffs.

“We’re making an effort to reduce and minimize any impact because we want teachers in front of the strudents in the classrooms,” Earley said.

At an afternoon news conference, Earley announced “a number of immediate next steps that we will be acting upon,” including creating a summit of education service providers to consider the recommendations due to Gov. Rick Snyder on March 31 from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.

Commenting on the fact that he’s fourth emergency manager at DPS since 2009, Earley compared it to a relay race, saying one EM hands over the district to another.

“I think we have a pretty good chance of finishing this race in good shape,” he said. “We’ll fix the way we do business.”

Earley emphasized that this is a preliminary report subject to change.

The coalition’s 36-member steering committee is exploring new ideas for operating Detroit’s patchwork of schools run by DPS, charter schools and the state-created Education Achievement Authority. DPS has lost nearly two-thirds of its students over the past decade, contributing to its persistent deficits.

Earley said the summit’s goals would include:

■Agreeing on a moratorium on the creation of new schools before this fall.

■Establishing a working group to identify “shared facility opportunities” and “substandard facilities” that could be closed in DPS.

■Setting up a task force to consider location of classes, enrollment rules, long-term strategy and funding formulas.

■Exploring legal changes to “level the playing field” for schools.

■Evaluating schools and programs for possible closures, mergers or relocations as soon as this fall.

■Considering options for restructuring DPS’s debt, which includes $2.6 billion in long-term obligations.

“We will do everything we can to right our own course, but a long-term solution will also require cooperation with the state of Michigan, city of Detroit, the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren and other key stakeholders — including our unions and the Board of Education — to be successful,” Earley said.

The emergency manager said his 10-point plan would focus during the next 17 months on academic competitiveness, governance, staff development, cash flow stability, higher education/collaboration, organizational development, special education, transportation, customer service and a comprehensive funding strategy.

“Because this restructuring work must be thoughtful and strategic, we know that it will not occur overnight,” said Earley. “Therefore, FY 2016 will be a transitional year, in which targeted cost reductions are made in areas that do not impact the quality of education delivery.”

But Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn is not impressed with Earley’s plan.

“It’s the same old mumbo jumbo and political dodging by the governor,” said Conn. “It doesn’t meet a single demand of teachers, students or the residents of Detroit. It doesn’t address class size reduction, the need for books, art, music or gym classes — none of it.”

SLewis@detroitnews.com

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