The atrocious state of the Detroit Public Schools is an accumulation of much incompetence and myriad villains over the course of many years.
But the reaction to DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s recent pay is symbolic of the chronic opposition to change engendered by an entrenched school bureaucracy that has become, rightfully so, the poster child of the ineptness and obstructionism of a city on the brink of collapse.
The school board and 28 other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last week in an effort to block Bobb from receiving thousands of dollars in incentive pay from private nonprofit groups.
Bobb's $81,000 pay raise bumps his salary to $425,000 a year. He made $344,000 last year. Bobb's base salary will increase from $260,000 to $280,000 and he'll receive $145,000 in supplemental income from philanthropic organizations -- up from $84,000 in private money last year.
That information is available to any interested party -- which makes the reaction of some teachers both puzzling and disconcerting.
"Where is all this money coming from, and who are these people? To me it seems very suspicious," Christal Bonner, a teacher at Finney High and a plaintiff in the suit, told The Detroit News.
Bobb, appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, receives $145,000 from the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation -- among other groups -- an increase of $61,000 from the amount the groups contributed to his pay last year.
“The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation is a national entrepreneurial philanthropy that seeks to dramatically transform American urban public education so that all children receive the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, careers and life,” the Foundation states on its Web page. A simple internet search reveals 160,000 results for “Broad Foundation,” so it seems that Ms. Bonner’s cluelessness does not bode well for her students.
Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson pointed to the layoffs of, and concessions made by, district employees as reason to oppose Bobb’s raise. The increase is "disingenuous," Johnson told FOXDetroit.com, and sends a bad message to employees.
The lawsuit was filed Monday by "Defend Public Education - Save Our Students,” a group that claims the "Broad Foundation has an agenda to close public schools and promote privatization."
The Detroit Federation of Teachers voted against joining the lawsuit. But the union did vote to file a complaint with the state ethics commission against Bobb for accepting the funds, according to Johnson. The union also voted to join the school board's lawsuit seeking to stop Bobb from making academic decisions.
The furor over Bobb’s salary is only the latest dust-up spearheaded by the school board, teachers and their acolytes to impede the changes Bobb has implemented, or plans to implement, in an effort to resuscitate Detroit’s abysmal schools. Earlier last week, a Detroit News editorial detailed efforts of school board members and their allies to blunt education reforms.
“From the school board down to teachers, an informal network of organizations and activists has been undermining Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb's efforts,” the opinion piece said. “The courts have ruled the Detroit school board shares some responsibility for academic decisions for the district along with Bobb, who was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Now the board is doing what it can to use its limited power to derail reform.
“In recent weeks, the board has been attempting to toss out Bobb plans to turn around the city's lowest performing schools. In one such move, the board issued a memo to school leaders to stop already-planned testing that is considered useful to helping teachers understand how to address their students' academic weaknesses.”
Bobb had planned to administer a “Quarterly Benchmark Assessment” in February. A Feb. 26 school board memo instructed school building leaders to boycott the test and to not report the results.
While many teachers administered the test to students, others -- such as Henry Ford High School teacher Shifonne Clark -- sent her 12th-graders home with waivers not to take the test. Clark bragged about her actions in a public meeting.
“Clark is among the educators and activists working with groups such as the Coalition to Restore Hope to DPS that is trying to stop Bobb from closing schools, a move needed so the district can stop pouring millions of dollars into buildings instead of student programs,” The News wrote. “At local meetings, school board members give speeches to these activists, encouraging them to stop any change in governance to switch the district from school board control to a mayoral management or other model.
“Meanwhile, union activists such as Steve Conn say they have gone to schools, urging students and teachers to walk out of classes to protest Bobb's work.”
Detroit residents could be voting on whether to abolish the school board altogether and allow the mayor to assume oversight for Detroit Public Schools. The board and union, of course, vehemently oppose any such action.
Fewer than 4,000 signatures are required to get the question on the ballot. “Excellent Schools Detroit” released its plan on Thursday, which includes efforts to disband the DPS school board in favor of one person -- Mayor Dave Bing -- accountable for the district’s operations.
Bing has indicated that he’s willing to take oversight responsibility of the school district if residents approve the measure.
The Bobb/Bing team is the best hope for Detroit schools in more than a generation. The hurdles placed in their way at every turn by the school board and teachers say much of the priorities of the anachronistic school establishment. From the Skillman Foundation to Teach for America to charter pioneer Doug Ross, advocates and architects of school change are met with a collective ”No” by defenders of a failed system.
Detroiters must take responsibility -- now -- for the changes necessary to avoid yet another lost generation of school children.
“Excellent Schools plan a chance for all to step up” - Stephen Henderson, Detroit Free Press
“Detroit has an opportunity to produce high-quality schools” - The Detroit News
“Detroit school board, allies try to stop to stop reform from within” - The Detroit News
“Suit trying to put end to Bobb's extra pay” - Detroit Free Press
“Union opposition to Teach for America volunteers blocks progress in Detroit” - The Detroit News