Monday Moanin’: Inept management doomed Detroit Public Schools

By Jeff Salisbury

The Michigan Legislature is still debating Detroit schools’ future as the state-run deficit grows under three governors’ control.

The Detroit Pumister journalism2blic Schools is in even bigger financial trouble than previously thought, according to a state report filed this week. In its June 2015 quarterly report on school district deficits, the Michigan Department of Education pegged DPS’s annual budget deficit at $166,359,414.

The question is, “How did the Detroit Public Schools get into this mess?”

The answer is: They had help. Lots and lots of help. Most all of it unwanted.

Here’s a bit of a history lesson.


“…the district has a $93 million surplus, partly because officials have used low-paid substitutes to fill the 1,100 vacancies among 12,000 teaching positions, (Detroit) Mayor (Dennis) Archer said. Only $400 million has been spent of a $1.5 billion bond issue for long-term capital improvements approved in 1994. (Published: March 5, 1999) ”


“When the 1999 takeover was implemented, DPS had modestly increasing student enrollment,” wrote public-school advocate Russ Bellant in a 2011 report by Critical Moment, a local independent magazine. “The District had a $100 million positive fund balance and academic scores in the broad mid-range of districts in the state. There was no performance justification for the takeover.”

“The conventional wisdom,” contended Bellant, “is that the actual reason for the takeover was to take control of $1.2 billion remaining from the $1.5 billion bond approved by voters in 1994. It was a golden egg that tempted too many in Lansing and Detroit.” (Published February 15, 2005)


By 2002, Governor appointed Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Robert Bobb reported the surplus was still over $100 million (but the bond money was all but gone) – then from 2005-2009 state appointed EFM’s had burned through the surplus, spent the bond monies and racked up a $200 million deficit.


The 10-year MI Senate Fiscal Agency report on per-pupil funding reveals that the DPS per-pupil allowance went from $7355 per student in 2004-05 to $7296 in 2014-15.


It takes a bit of work and a few keystrokes, but the data is out there. A person just has to know where to look to uncover the sad, sad tale of mismanagement of the Detroit Public Schools, by the the three governors, numerous “emergency financial managers” and the State of Michigan, which continues to this day.

Sadly for the children and parents of DPS students that inept management and downright corruption continues from 1999 to the present day as a dreadful legacy.

For some folks – two former and one current governor, at least one former mayor, a series of appointed “emergency financial managers” and a string of past and present Detroit school administrators, I honestly don’t know how they sleep at night.

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