A Bureaucratic Tantrum?
Are we witnessing a bureaucratic temper tantrum?
Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb has threatened to eliminate summer school classes for some 40,000 DPS students—and as of today suspended such vital programs as extended day courses in high schools throughout the district—after a Wayne County Circuit Court judge blocked his plans to begin overhauling the district.
“We will follow the law, as an example to our students, but … we will fight this ruling vigorously and appeal,” Bobb said in a statement.
Meanwhile, board members reacted angrily to Bobb's threats to cancel summer school.
“These are alarmist tactics,” board vice president Anthony Adams told the Free Press Saturday afternoon. “I think the judge's ruling is clear, that the academic plan is the province of the board.”
While I understand our collective anxieties over a school board that has been clownishly inept in recent the years, I can't help but wonder whether Bobb is overreacting here. In effect, it seems, he's threatening academic harm to Detroit schoolkids as a way of striking back at the board for the ruling, cutting off the kids' noses to spite the board's face, if you will.
These are our children we're talking about here, some of them among the most academically challenged in the region. I understand that Robert Bobb has a job to do and that taxpayers, among others, are rewarding him handsomely to do it. But what kind of toll would canceling sorely needed developmental initiatives have on the ground? And who gets hurt the most? And why can't this be worked out, either among the bureaucrats in this city or the legislators in Lansing?
I reached out to my friend Janice Rowley—a teacher at Detroit Crockett Technical High School and one of thousands of city educators who work overtime in "extended day" classes designed to help student graduate on time—to get that ground-level view. Janice, who works after school four days a week for as many as four hours a day extra, says the extended day courses have allowed her and other teachers to help hundreds of students get an academic boost. A fiery, determined educator who is also a product of DPS, she was none too pleased to come in to work this morning and be told that the after-school classes had been shut down until further notice.
"Bottom line, Bobb is acting like a spoiled brat," she told me. "I thought that he claimed he cared about the children and that they were what was most important. Well then, here's my question to him: So you care so much about our kids that, because a judge said, 'Hold on a minute, dog, you're not supposed to be making academic decisions,' you cancel supplemental programs? The judge tells him he has to follow the law so now he wants to take his bat and ball and go home. That's wrong."
To her, the loss of the extended day courses and the proposed elimination of summer school aren't just an isolated act, but yet another step down in what she sees as Crockett's continual decline since Bobb took over. She worries that her students have yet again become a political football being kicked around by both city leaders and state politicians.
She doesn't pretend like all was great at her school before Gov. Jennifer Granholm installed Bobb has emergency financial manager. But she says that things have gotten progressively worse under Bobb and the drastic measures he's undertaken to balance the district's budget. She says the district has made too many cuts and has been too insensitive to students' needs.
"We're suffering from a lack of material resources," she says. "Textbooks, writing paper, toilet paper, teachers and support staff are but a few of the resources lacking. We lost our art classes. We lost robotics. Robotics! Rather than a focus on academic achievement, there is an emphasis on 'equal grade distribution.' It is important that there be the appearance of academic achievement rather than a quantifiable jump in the intellect of students.
"It went from feeling like I was in an intensive care unit to feeling like I am in the middle of a gang fight--every day," she says. "It's horrible. And now because he's fighting with the school board, he's saying that our children will have to go without again?"
I hope that's not what Bobb is saying. But it sure seems like that's what I'm hearing.