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And We Are Not Saved

OK, so can we slow down now on the push to canonize Detroit Public Schools financial manager Robert Bobb?

Since being appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm as the emergency financial manager in March 2009 to control the finances of the state's largest school district, red ink is growing, according to district budget documents:

• Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.

• Added to the $219 million deficit accumulated from previous years, Bobb anticipates posting a $317 million deficit by this summer -- the largest year-end deficit ever recorded for the district.

Don't get me wrong. I think Bobb's a smart guy. And I appreciate that he has a bear of a job on his hands trying to right the school system's listing fiscal ship, a job that no one thinks he'll complete overnight.

Even so, from the moment he arrived, far too many (especially in the media) have sought to portray the man as everything from a superhero to a saint to the single-handed savior of our struggling school system.

To be honest, I've never understood why he's gotten such a pass. Sure, he's talked tough. And, yes, he's fired some folks and made public examples of others. And I'll admit, Bobb can give a great press conference and keynote speech.

But given the worsening budget outlook of the schools -- on his watch -- how does any of this amount to anything more than the smoke and mirrors of bureaucracy theater? And why is his brand of theater any more acceptable than the slapstick comedy that too often has been the elected Detroit school board? Because it looks cooler and sounds tougher? (I prefer Dirty Harry to the Keystone Kops, too, but neither is going to solve an actual crime.)

Detroiters, though, we love that emotional rush that comes when a new bureaucrat rides into town swearing that things are going to be different on his watch. And from day one, Bobb has played to that craving quite well. He's slapped up the petty thieves and been quick with the pink slips. He has held forth about openness and accountability, and has been quick to bring some folks into public hearings to discuss misdeeds.

But on the flip side, he's also had to turn around and re-hire many of those he canned because, well, it turns out that DPS actually does need them. And while he's been relentless in his insistence that the little people stand before his public hearings, he's been far more forgiving of the powerful (like when he backed off of asking a very influential real-estate firm to talk publicly about questionable deals it did with DPS).

Most importantly, the emergency financial manager still ain't saved a dime.

Several months ago, he promised a multi-million-dollar surplus. Then it came out last fall that he had added $21 million to the deficit. Then last month, the Wife (who broke the news about the $21 million, BTW) reported that the district was so short on cash that it couldn't even make payroll. Now, Bobb essentially just says, "Hey, things could've been worse without me."

"My confidence level has never been higher," Bobb said. Asked to grade his financial job performance, Bobb gave himself a "B plus" for efforts such as eliminating millions in inefficiencies that would have driven the deficit to more than $547 million.

He may very well have prevented the shortfall from swelling. But if Bobb believes that adding $100 million to the district's deficit after predicting a $17-million surplus is B-plus work, I can only hope that he's not thinking of applying that same grading scale to our schoolchildren.

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  • 1

    What is his actual role? I understand his title is "Emergency Fincancial Manager" but I am unclear what the expectations of him are and what his actual stated objective is. If his role is to tighten the belt and only run a surplus then he appears to have failed and I would be concerned that there is an overly bean-counter type approach to education. If he is trying to create a long term solution then I don't know enough to judge how this is working. I'd say he has been overly optomistic but I would like to know more about why under his watch the bleeding seems to be picking up and if at all it will be helpful in the long term.

  • 2

    Maybe we should kill the cacamamie 3 car light rail thing with the wild drumbeat and electric sounds and get the wonderful donors to think about the kids.

    Remember that the UCCA got involved with some transportation consultants who sold the idea of a special bus with the same but slightly better route.
    They projected a huge ridership. So watching that short bus make it's rounds with one to none on it was a bit sickening. The lightrail will be worse regardless of Dave's joy.

    But the thing that actually bothers me is that these do good City Fathers who gathered in Bobb are largely Republicans hell bent on demolishing everything and setting themselves up for huge profits so that they can run their hideous Republican sytle ads on TV to kill Obama.

    This is more realistic than cynical believe it or not.

  • 3

    THANK YOU MR DAWSEY.....A bonafide journalist finally looking critically at the man who, until now it seems, could do no wrong. Robert Bobb has received unearned praise since he rode his horse into town. As an Educator and a historian, I have a broad understanding of the long-term negative implications of many of the decisions he has made...and the rumors of what is to come are frightening to say the least. I urge all readers to look very carefully at ALL of his decisions. Children here need strong adult advocacy; especially when it comes to their education. Public Education is under assault all over this nation bu in places like Detroit - we must be mindful that public education is THE ONLY CHOICE for the poor and their education should be high quality and relevant; based on what the community and its leaders believe to be relevant. I urge all people with knowledge, compassion, love for children, and stamina to get involved in discussions with and about Robert Bobb - for the sake of the kids. Dont allow an outsider to be the only person who decides what public education will look like in Detroit....Remember folks: He will be on his horse again soon...riding off to the next business that needs to increase its budget while The Manager gets control of it...

    • 3.1

      Teachtothink, I agree Bobb is no messiah; but come on....he is not destroying Detroit Public Schools.....that's been going on for a long time now. We all know he is not the genesis of DPS' demise. I think our problem is that we actually believed Bobb or anyone could fix DPS in a year. It is a little naive actually. If we compared DPS' situation to our own personal households, then Mr. Bobb's task becomes more understanding. If your household was in debt, you can't get out in a year....normally it takes longer because you have to change practices, beliefs, spending and you have to get more income. If you do it in a year, usually you'd have to make drastic cuts that essentially are unreasonable. So why do we think Mr. Bobb is failing considering the circumstances. He is no messiah, but he is no slacker either.

  • 4


    I have tried to shatter the myth of St.Bobb but his messiah image is driven by the media and others..

  • 5

    Please don't forget.

    The school system an the DPS was a corrupt mess.

    Finally word is getting out that corruption doesn't pay but someone has to be constantly alert to clean up the messes.

    Whites have been observing that corruption is de regeur in Detroit. That is not a good thing. We are in this together.

    Bobb has an exceedingly difficult job and it was not about to get cleaned up the way things were set up.

    Taking pot shots at Bobb serves no useful prpose. He has been working his arse off trying to straighten thing out. So you have to give him huge credit for that.

    Now I too have some concerns. No one has been publishing the data that he used to arrive at his conclusiona and it would appear that Data Driven Detroit may have turned up some interesting new stuff.

    There should be a meeting with DDD and the School Demographers to go over he data and reach mutual conclusions.

    When are we going to see the population curves? How come none of you have been asking for that?

    It's vital... vital statistics they call it and yup it is.


  • 6

    Islandarchitec....The problem with your comment is that while you on the one hand acknowledge that it is challenging to get a grip on a billion dollar budget that is millions of dollars in the would rather give the person who is paid over a half million dollars to do it an "Ease up on the Criticism" pass. That is not fair and it does not make sense.

    Bobb has talked about people in Detroit TO people in Detroit with utter disdain and disrespect since he arrived. Despite claims by himself and the media, students in Detroit Public Schools are not all "better off" because of the decisions the numbers cruncher is making. No single man will ever be able to change all that is wrong with public education here or anywhere else.

    It is important that more people look critically at each and every decision this outsider is making. Our children need all of us to be a part of creating public education in the New Detroit !!!

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