As it is right now, classes are overcrowded, even in the schools that are not "failing" schools; some teachers have been transferred so often they couldn't even provide grades to their students; there has been a teacher shortage in critical specialties; and there is a new technology initiative paid for by stimulus funds but it is very unclear how teachers will be trained to use the technology or how they will replace it as it needs replacement. (See John Sowash's post about that here.)
Robert Bobb is supposed to be in charge of the finances. And he estimates that if he were to balance the budget now, the average class size would be 62 students. That is what would happen with the deficit elimination plan that he was required to submit to the state. And that would obviously be a bad idea. He also doesn't prefer it.
The Detroit media has been highlighting Robert Bobb's other ideas--one of which involves splitting the Detroit school district in two. At first I thought that this idea was inspired by the division of GM as it went through bankruptcy. With GM (and I know I'm oversimplifying here), the "new" GM got to keep the GM name, and all the "good" assets--and the old GM got stuck with all the "bad" assets, but it has freed up the "new" GM to move forward. OK, that might be a controversial idea, but as Rochelle Riley said in a Detroit Free Press column, it might get people talking. And I'm all for thinking outside the box.
But what, exactly, is he talking about? NOT what I thought. No, according to this Detroit Free Press article, he's talking about
Over the past month, Bobb has also suggested two other proposals that would require lawmakers to amend state law, but he has yet to gain traction in Lansing.
One proposal would securitize $400 million in state tobacco settlement funds to distribute to all of the state’s deficit districts.
The other proposal also would require a significant -- but undetermined -- amount of state funds. That plan would split the district into two entities on paper -- one that would pay off the debts and one that would be debt-free and need start-up funding.
According to Rochelle Riley, Free Press columnist,
One would have 9,000 students and use all of the per-pupil dollars the state distributes to DPS next year to wipe out the debt and to operate.Wait--the "good" district gets 9,000 students and the "bad" district gets 66,000 students? That sounds fishy to me.
The other would educate the district's other 66,000 students, using unknown start-up funds.
Bobb declined to discuss the plan, which he's still working up, but his spokesman, Steve Wasko, said the move would be "seamless to parents" and students, and a financial, not academic, step. (Emphasis added.)
In that same article,
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said his first reaction to the plan was: "Brown v. Board of Education. That was the first thing that popped into my mind, separate but unequal. My biggest fear is ... that you're designating a segment of this community and children as being less than and thus educably expendable.
"We know that the schools that would be debt-free would be those schools that are consistently high-performing and those schools that are being newly built. So we're talking about the Casses, the Bates, the Ludingtons, the Langston Hughes, the Charles Wrights, the Renaissances... Who's going to be left in the debt-ridden district? Those schools that are low-performing, schools like Denby, Osborn, Central High School, some of our low-performing elementary or schools that service children with the highest degree of learning disabilities."
Think this is only a Detroit problem? Think again. We've got our own districts in this situation. You can only cut programs so far, and who would fund this other district? Let's just remember: it's one thing to put "bad assets" into a bankrupt district. But there's this sticky problem. Schools are not about assets. They are about kids. What about the kids?