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Detroit Public Schools Under Emergency Manager Siege

April 17, 2011

As GRIID posted on Saturday, the emergency financial manager of the City of Benton Harbor has stripped elected officials of their authority. This action is permitted under Snyder’s newly expanded emergency management law.

The Detroit Public School system is also confronting the realities of this legislation. Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager appointed by Jennifer Granholm to the Detroit Public Schools, has announced that he plans to take advantage of his expanded powers as soon as possible. “I fully intend to use the authority that was granted,” Bobb commented. As good as his word, a layoff notice was mailed to every teacher in the school system—5,466 people, all of whom are members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union.

In addition, “non-renewable notices” were sent to 248 administrators. Recently, Bobb has also implied that he is exploring the idea of firing the elected Detroit School Board members—all of them.

In 2009, Bobb attempted to alter the union’s collective bargaining agreement, but did not have the authority to do so.

In 2010, Bobb sent layoff notices to 2,000 teachers. However, at that time he did not have the authority to replace union members with non-unionized staff. Under Snyder’s new legislation, Bobb can erase union contracts, and hire any replacement teaching staff he wishes.

In February, Bobb announced that he wants to close half the schools in the system, another power that he has under his new authority. He no longer needs to consult with the school board to eliminate schools and consolidate student populations. It is estimated that, provided he hires the same number of teachers that are receiving layoff notices, this will increase the average classroom size to 60 students.

And on March 14, Bobb declared his intention to turn 41 of Detroit’s public schools into charter schools. As West Michigan residents, we are well aware that this direction, endorsed by Snyder, comes directly through the pipeline of the DeVos-family-funded Mackinac Center, a hyper-conservative “think tank” from which Snyder drew his infamous 10-point plan to “save” Michigan.

Let’s remind ourselves that this is just the beginning—both for the Detroit schools and for future emergency financial manager fiats that are just around the corner for other school systems and cities in Michigan. Robert Bobb has only 73 days left on his contract as the school system’s manager. Snyder may choose to renew his contract, or he may appoint someone with even more aggressive plans for the assets, staff, and students of the Detroit schools.

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