Since 2009, Detroit’s public schools have been under state control with three previous emergency managers. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, said at the time that Robert Bobb, a turnaround expert from Washington, D.C., had the ability to get the system back on its financial feet, after several years of big deficits. It didn’t turn out that way. Bobb was followed by former General Motors Executive Roy Roberts, who was followed by former assistant Secretary for Education Jack Martin.
Now, Darnell Earley, former city manager in Saginaw and former emergency manager in Flint, recently became DPS’ fourth emergency manager. He comes in at a time when Governor Rick Snyder is working on a new plan for public education in the city, while a broad and diverse group of leaders in Detroit is working on its own scheme to make schools better. Lots of things are likely to change in the very near future.
Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson writes:
The school district is now down to just over 40,000 children – and its books are still deeply out of whack. Now let’s be clear: there has been a lot of mythmaking in Detroit about the schools. Stories about how grand the district was before the first round of state control in the late 1990s; tales about conspiracy and plundering on the state’s part. But here’s the truth: Back in the 1970s, when my mother was looking for schooling options for me and my sister, DPS schools were generally not on the list. And when I covered the district in the early 1990s for the Detroit Free Press, it was horrific – corrupt, dysfunctional, and under-performing.
We – not just Detroiters, but everyone in the state – have made DPS what it is. We have allowed a school system that WAS a national model, back in the middle part of the century, to slide into mediocrity and then despair.
It’s into this vortex that Darnell Earley, former city manager in Saginaw and former emergency manager in Flint, becomes DPS’ fourth emergency manager.
“When you add all that together, you have a recipe for a very tall challenge,” says Earley. He says he intends to be the last emergency manager for DPS, in part because inserting EMs into the schools for 18-month stints, and then replacing them, comes with its own serious issues and challenges. “It’s an over-simplification” to say the district is more screwed up since the state took over, he says.
Earley also says he wants to downsize bureaucratic layers at DPS. He says he knows dramatic changes in the district will be met with push-back.
“Any time you go into an organization and try to change the culture of that organization, you’re met with… a lot of foot-dragging, and we don’t have time for that.”
Revenue is a major hurdle for DPS, says Earley. He stresses that no on wants to invest money in a failing system and that major changes will need to be made to reach self-sustainability. These changes should not all come from closing schools either according to Early, especially when it comes to good, but underpopulated, schools which should be strengthened.
“There are many ramifications for closing schools that are just as troublesome as the financial issue,” says Earley.