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Not So Simple

News about the bureaucrats running Detroit Public Schools continues to frustrate.

Despite state intervention, layoffs and wide-ranging budget cuts, the Detroit Public Schools' deficit may continue until 2014, according to DPS budget projections.

A DPS deficit-elimination plan filed with the state last month projects the district will end this school year with a deficit of $332 million, up from $218.9 million last year.

Nobody thought DPS emergency financial manager Robert Bobb would have it easy, of course — unless you're talking about all the voters, media personalities, politicians, philanthropists and parents who hailed him as a savior the day he showed up for the job.

After all, nowhere in America do people seem more addicted to the oversimplification of complex problems than in Detroit.

We love the Big Promise and are always quick to hug the easy solutions and uncomplicated storylines, especially when they come from people who are expected to help answer some of our most intractable woes. We think film companies that go bust in a year will garner us billions in tax revenue. We think poverty should be solvable with a slogan or an amorphous demand for federal dollars or the opening of new casinos. We think violence will end if we bring prayer back into the schools and kick rap music out, if these boys would just pull up their pants and stop wearing cornrows. We think schools will be better if we can only find someone to weed out those criminal lunch aides and talk tough to the teachers' union.

Meanwhile, we grow poorer, our streets run redder, our children fall further behind.

But the search for the Chosen One goes on. In a town as overrun with preachers and churches as it is with drugs and liquor stores, we continue to look heavenward — or at least to Lansing and D.C. — thinking that someday soon our municipal messiah will come. And when that knight-in-shining-policy arrives, dressed as a mayor or councilman or state appointee, the message will suddenly be made manifest, accessible to all, easy to digest and implemented with swift and stunning efficiency and success.

And so, we get the politicians we deserve -- the weak-ass, dithering bureaucrats who smell this lust for simplicity and sate it by selling us policy snake oil and charmers dressed up as revolutionaries. Who has time to think ahead about the education of our children when there are elections to win, cabinet appointments to pursue and pockets to line? Why make a long-term investment in the state's largest, most troubled district when selling it out for the short-term is so much easier?

Gov. Granholm basically did just this when, rather than grapple with the thorny issues of how public schools get funded in this state, she chose only to appoint Bobb to "clean up" Detroit. So what if reform is what we really need? Education-funding reform is too complex for feint-hearted pols, doesn't easily lend itself to bumper stickers and speeches to the Economic Club. But everyone can understand the idea of "a new sheriff" in town. (Not that we don't need a firm administrative hand, mind you, but we need real reform even more.)

Meanwhile, in the city, Bobb has done his part to advance the state-sanctioned narrative, with his non-stop press conferences and show pony firings and chest-thumping predictions that, under his leadership, a district long-plagued with devastating structural issues would see a $17-million surplus within a year. All it would take was his iron-clad will, he intimated. Now, though, there's this...

Last year, Bobb cut spending to get the deficit to $218.9 million, and then submitted a 2009-10 budget that projected the district deficit would not grow, but have a $17-million surplus. But by October, that budget was overspent by $20 million. The deficit has ballooned since then; next year's budget is expected to start off with a $332-million deficit, according to the monthly report.

Still, no worries, we're being told. Bobb's got this. DPS will have it all under control by, oh, 2013 — assuming, of course, he's around to keep implementing his plan. Which he almost certainly won't be.

So when all the smoke and mirrors have finally been cleared out, DPS will likely still have a humongous budget deficit. And lousy schools. And buffoons for board members. And thousands of children unfit to compete in the 19th Century, let alone the 21st.

The problems will remain even after the politicians elected to solve them have moved on. And while consultants, contractors, real-estate swindlers and everyone else gets over by pimping easy solutions to our complex problems, our children and our collective future will continue to pay the price.

Really, it's just that simple.

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  • 1

    Finally...somebody gets it.....OMG Mr. Dawsey...You hit the nail on the head over and over and over again. Nothing is simple here in Detroit and the problems are so multi-layered that most folks miss at least half of what is really there.

    But one thing is crystal clear to me as an Educator in the poorest, most segregated school district in the entire will take more than one man with 4 full time body guards to solve the myriad of problems in DPS and it will certainly require that the person at least respect the community they have been paid to serve. Robert Bobb, while totally disrespecting the citizens of the City of Detroit, has not done anything to get DPS out of its fiscal obstacle course, in fact, he has personally added to the problems. And now, he is in bed with all of the philanthropists lying in wait to come into Detroit and make lots of money educating only some of the young people here. I say "some" because Charter schools in Detroit will inevitably result in only SOME students receiving a high quality education. There will be more school aged children not in school than in school if Charter schools take over. Public schools are required to educate all students...Charter schools educate the ones they want to.....THAT IS THE REALITY !!!!

    Like Mr. Dawsey intimates....Folks....stop looking for a Saviour....Be a Saviour....the kids need lots and lots of saving and it will be those of us who care the most who will be left to save them anyway.


  • 2

    Good one Darrell!

    It is amazing to watch and actually be a part of all this since I am a parent at King and get to see what is going on.

    (Some say that I was the instrumental one in getting the King Band to China when Detroit needed some relief to the horrors unfolding about Kwame.)

    You razzed me about defending Robert Bobb early on but I was aware of how corrupt things were at the School Board Building and knew that he was doing the right thing.

    And it actually was a simple thing too. They never returned phone calls. Amazing... adults not returning phone calls! Never keeping promises, pulling sly graft requests... all that horrible stuff.

    At core, Integrity is about keeping your word and showing up on time, and being present to the request, and fulfilling upon your promises.

    But now we are in a different phase and what I am seeing is beyond incredible from an Architectural perspective. I was recently challenged about my experience and you know what, It's 50 years in Architecture this year. Is it possible that I might know something? Is it possible that I might actually care?

    Care about Detroit? Care about my Daughter and her educational experience? Care about my City? Care about the Architecture, both Historic and New?

    Well, I have chosen to.

    And what I have seen has told me that Mr. Bobb has selected some associate advisors that have come up with a very time wasting and cost wasting processes.

    But from their business perspective of milking the bond moneys it sure is astoundingly effective for them.

    Milking or bilking? Please help me here. Which is it?

    Please note that on the King project that the Administration, Staff, Faculty and Parents have all expressed rejection of the proposed design.

    Why waste moneys that way, and why propose something that simply does not meet the needs of the school? Design a major high School in a week?? Please give me a break.

    But Robert Bobb does have something of a way out and that is to let the bidding architect that they choose, use their heads in ironing out the huge problem created by Bobb's consultants. Will he elect to do that or will he waste more money trying to let his consultants straighten out the mess that they have created?

    One way will be less expensive and quicker. Will he choose that?

    You tell me Darrell.


  • 3

    Bobb's consultants vs. bidding architects? This is of great interest to us here in SW Detroit as we try to figure out just what is Bobb's plan for Western International High School and Earhart. Something planned IN A HURRY (one week)?
    Something planned without any administrator, staff, parent, or student input? Something that sees historic housing as STANDING IN THE WAY? And no, I am not getting any answers to my emails to Bobb or the facilities plan--
    apparently a scenario being repeated at various sites throughout the city. He just is not getting the message that we do not want mega schools.

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