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Detroit Schools’ Cuts Plan Approved

February 23, 2011


The state of Michigan approved a plan for Detroit to close about half of its public schools and increase the average size of high-school classrooms to 60 students over the next four years to eliminate a $327 million deficit.

The plan was submitted in January by Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager, as a last-ditch scenario if the district couldn’t find new revenue sources, which it hasn’t so far. Final approval came after Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, cleared Mr. Bobb’s initial plan with some new requirements, including that the district not file for bankruptcy protection during Mr. Bobb’s remaining months in office.

The state approved the plan in a Feb. 8 letter, which the Detroit public-schools district released Monday.

Mr. Bobb said the deep cuts were necessary if the district hoped to be solvent again without additional state aid. But he said the strategy was ultimately ill-advised because it will likely drive even more students away, depriving the district of needed state funds, which Michigan apportions on the basis of enrollment.

“This is the route we’re forced to take under state law,” Steven Wasko, Detroit Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for communications, said Monday. “However we continue to look for longer-term plans so we can avoid this.”

Mr. Bobb is now moving to shrink the district to 72 schools from 142, as enrollment is expected to decline to 58,570 students by 2014 from about 73,000 students today.

Mr. Bobb was appointed emergency financial manager for the district two years ago to help close what was then a $218 million deficit, and moved quickly to close schools and root out waste. But the deficit deepened during his tenure, weighed down by salary, pension and health-care obligations. The longtime municipal manager said that without the cuts and cost-savings measures he has made since 2009, the district would face a deficit of more than $500 million today.

Meanwhile, many of his efforts to restructure the district’s academics and finances were derailed by clashes with unions and with the elected school board, which recently won a court fight to control academics and select the next superintendent.

Anthony Adams, the chairman of the school board, didn’t respond Monday to a request for comment. The school board has sought an infusion of funds from the state and an end to outside control of the district.

Mr. Bobb has agreed to stay a few more months beyond his appointed term, through the end of June. A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday that he was considering appointing another emergency manager to succeed Mr. Bobb, which would keep the elected board of education largely sidelined on financial matters for the near future.


Organized labor is fighting back. The Detroit Federation of Teachers called for an emergency lobbying day Tuesday in Lansing, the state capital, to protest bills granting emergency financial managers broad power over cities and school districts in financial crisis. Under those bills, emergency managers could toss out union contracts, dissolve school boards and set wage and benefit levels without collective bargaining. Mr. Bobb is generally supportive of the bills, said Mr. Wasko, the assistant superintendent.

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