Finley: The emergency manager model is failing DPS

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Darnell Earley has a plan. Robert Bobb had one, too. So did Roy Roberts. And Jack Martin.

Earley and his three predecessors as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools all had the formula for fixing the district's financial mess and turning the focus on delivering a quality education to the city's cheated children.

And yet here we are, starting over for the fourth time in six years with a new man with a new plan.

This has moved beyond the borders of absurd. It's a travesty. The school district and the schools are no closer to functionality than they were when state oversight began.

I supported the state takeover, and each of the emergency managers, because I believed the Detroit school board was too incompetent and corrupt to be entrusted with the city's future.

I still believe that. But there's no excuse that after so much time and so many managers — all proven, talented executives — the district is starting over once more.

Earley says he's got the answer for DPS. He won't offer his opinion on why the previous remedies didn't work. Like the others before him, he is asking parents to keep their kids in the public schools and trust that he'll get the job done.

I've got nothing against Earley and no informed opinion of whether his blueprint is sound. But if I were a Detroit parent, I'd say "yeah, right."

Particularly when you look at the Education Achievement Authority, the state's other experiment in remaking urban education. The EAA was formed not quite three years ago with a promise to turnaround the city's 15 worst schools within five years through site-based management and empowered principals.

Barely halfway in, the EAA is replacing most of those super principals and undergoing a major overhaul. In other words, the reform district is failing and must be reformed. The state has not earned the trust of Detroit parents.

Earley was out with his plan as required by law 45 days after his appointment. DPS parents were already waiting to hear from Gov. Rick Snyder, who will submit his own restructuring ideas later this month.

And a committee of community leaders is cobbling together suggested reforms intended to inform Snyder's proposal. Could this be more confusing?

Earley says his strategy will dovetail with the other work. But he assumes DPS will remain intact and under his guidance. Hints from the committee and the governor's team suggest a radical revamping of education in Detroit that minimizes DPS and better integrates traditional and charter public schools.

There's talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar, who may or may not be Mayor Mike Duggan. Where that leaves Earley and his plan, who knows?

Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr as emergency manager of Detroit and fixed the city's finances in less than two years. After six, the schools still have a bloated bureaucracy and budget deficit and continue to lose students. Parents and taxpayers have a right to ask why.

Earley vows he'll lead the city out of emergency management by the time his 18 month term ends. He'd better be right.


Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.