In 2011, DPS Financial manager Roberts was confident that Education Achievement Authority (EAA) would be a success. “I’ll make you a little bet,” he told Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey. “Give us two years and people will ask us to be in EAA.”
The EAA is a new state-run school district, which is a public/private partnership between the state and Eastern Michigan University, is the first of a statewide effort to turn around schools that are underperforming. The creation of the EAA district was taken under Public Act 4, the controversial emergency manager law that’s now up for public vote in November.
If the people decide to toss PA4 on Election Day, Roberts won’t be able to see out his EAA bet—or anything else—as the Board of Education will regain power.
The question remains, if Roberts isn’t there to “undo 50 years of crap” as he puts it, who will? Certainly not the old systems that have been in place—or a superhero: “Superman ain’t comin’ is one of Robert’s favorite quips when referring to the DPS crisis.
Back in 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder first appointed Roberts, he made it clear he was tough—and frank—enough for the job. And with the scope of EFM power increased under the new Public Act 4 legislation, Roberts had the ability to do things his predecessor, Robert Bobb, couldn’t.
Things like overseeing the new EAA district, offering take-home Netbooks for students in grades 8-12, individualized learning plans for each DPS student and new specialized schools including Medicine and Arts high schools and still slashing $75 million from the budget.
As Tuesday marked the first day of school for DPS, the advertisements ramping up to opening day have been aggressive—and good: Either the Detroit Public School district is doing a world-class PR job, or it really has taken great measures to improve the learning environment for the upcoming year. And while it may be a little of both, it seems that the district is starting off the academic year revamped and better organized.
With just over a year of what Roberts has called “the hardest job of his life” under his belt, he has accomplished much of what he said he would without being hamstrung by the Board of Education. Now, as November approaches, time is running out to prove that DPS is better off in the state’s hands.
Parents have to decide for themselves if their children are better off now than they were two years ago. But both Roberts and his counterpart, EAA chancellor John Covington, both agree that the future is not just up to them—or superman. And while two years is hardly enough to judge long term progress, so far they have made huge strides in changing the landscape of public education in the city.
“This is something we can’t do by ourselves,” Covington said, calling on people to get involved in the process. “We need the general community to get actively involved. There aught to be someone out there holding us accountable.”
Last week on WDET (101.9 fm) radio, Craig Fahle made a good point. He had people call in to the Craig Fahle Show to sound off on the proposed slash of 80 percent of Detroit Water Department employees over the next five years.
Many callers were upset about the proposal and said that the city should not make these drastic cuts because people need jobs.
Then Fahle asked the million-dollar question: What is the water department’s responsibility? To employ people or to provide clean water in the most efficient way possible?
That’s a question many city departments have to ask themselves. When we talk about Detroit’s financial state, and cutting the number of employees to help curb spending, the uprising from people is that the city can’t keep cutting jobs. While unemployment is not good for the economy overall, it’s not the city’s job to keep people employed for employment's sake.
The proposals for these massive cuts came from consulting firm EMA Inc., hired by the water and sewerage department to study operations and map out a plan to cut costs. EMA conducted the study over three months. In addition to the job cuts, the plan calls for:
- Outsourcing 361 positions to low-cost contract workers in noncore functions, such as billing and mailing, grounds maintenance, office cleaning and facilities maintenance
- Outsourcing for large engineering projects and peak times
- Reducing job classifications from 257 to 31
The City of Detroit is not an employment service. It’s a service provider that should find the most efficient way to provide those services. Unfortunately that is going to mean a lot of jobs lost in the name of efficiency.
While leaders should be looking for ways to employ people to get work done, the other side to that coin is making services efficient and keeping the city afloat.
But I remember three years ago when Bing just got into office and he was trying to do make the cuts needed without state intervention. Remember the union contracts? I particularly remember when lawsuits were flying then namely around AFSCME Local Council 25. The city charter was again in question. Bing had terminated union contracts saying basically the same thing: If I don't there will be payless paydays, the city is broke, and so on. Only, then he estimated the city had a month or two to go before it crumbled--financially that is.
Bing is doing what he and many others feel is best for the city. Concede some power to the state so the city doesn't go bankrupt -- which would be bad for everyone involved. What has to happen is it has turned into an "us vs them" argument when now is the time people need to be working together. If Bing is right this time and the city IS running out of cash, then that is, indeed, perilous for all residents. Too bad Bing used the running out of money in x amount of time warning too many times before.
No doubt he wasn't kidding then, but now, since he is giving the city four days before bust, it's similar to what he said before to get the cuts he needed. So now that the situation has escalated and the stakes have risen, people are acting apathetic. Threats of running out of money are nothing new because the city has been running out of money for a long time. What is the case now? Is it literally a count down to chaos? Does all of Detroit's future really hung on Krystal Crittendon and the lawsuit she filed to hold up the consent agreement? The stakes are high, yes. But does that mean the drama needs to escalate, too?
It was a theme highlighted by leaders at The Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes and Politics forum: collaboration. Often leaders speak of collaborating and working together, but it’s hard sometimes to point out specific examples of what that looks like.
That’s why when I read in the Detroit Free Press that sheriffs from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties were willing to send officers to help patrol the Detroit fireworks, I thought of a the collaboration theme.
In May at the “Big Four” session of Pancakes and Politics, one attendee asked Detroit Mayor Dave Bing if he would be willing to seek public safety help from surrounding counties Bing’s reply was that he was open to any options to help keep people safe in the city.
This week, that question was fully answered. When Bing asked the leaders in surrounding counties to send officers in to patrol the hundreds of thousands of people expected to attend the 54th annual Target Fireworks show on the Detroit river, the answer was yes. State police will also help patrol the event.
After ripping more than $200 million from this fiscal year’s budget, the city can’t afford to police large events, ones that ultimately draw in residents from all over the region and state.
“It is no longer feasible to have these events funded primarily by Detroit taxpayers.”
It makes sense that the surrounding counties and state would lend a hand. The fireworks may be located in Detroit, but it is a regional, event statewide attraction and therefore, the responsibility of those counties to keep residents safe. The financial burden of events such as this should not be placed solely on Detroit taxpayers in this economic climate. So patrol help from neighbors isn’t a handout, it’s a responsible step to keeping people safe.
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