Nobody can be satisfied with the state of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) during the tenure of outgoing Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. Since his failures are well chronicled, Detroiters should bid him adieu without regret.
In Detroit’s current education crisis there is opportunity. We can only hope that his replacement, retired GM Executive Roy Roberts, will bring to the job a contrasting style that averts a doomsday scenario for the city.
Although a stranger to the city, Robert Bobb arrived amid high expectations. I took the liberty of introducing myself after stopping him at the old Wayne County Building. I told Bobb that irrespective of the fact that my brother was the president of the teacher’s union, he was my hero. He was the one Detroit had been waiting for to rescue the district. I urged him to do everything within his extraordinary powers to give the children a fighting chance, a real opportunity to learn and succeed.
Bobb failed miserable, even in his most basic charge to bring the district’s finances in line with available revenue. The deficit actually doubled under his watch.
Bobb believed in central control, consolidating power at the top. This approach, however, didn’t allow him to get enough books in every school, and he was slow to put into place a purchasing system capable of timely buying basic supplies.
Test scores continued to reflect one of the worse learning environments in the nation. No connection was made between the money spent and what took place in the classroom. There is nothing about DPS today that resembles a well functioning education delivery system.
There too is no evidence that Bobb’s talents were ideally suited to a large, deeply complex and troubled urban school district. What DPS needed was site-based management that shifted more control over budgets and hiring decisions to school principals. It took Bobb too long, and perhaps too late, before he realized that chartering schools, giving students and parents more choices of schools to attend, was the best reform measure. By then, faithless parents, shocked by the disorder and instability he caused, had gathered up their children and fled in droves to private and charter schools, or to schools across district lines.
I am a casual acquaintance of Roy Roberts. I know him more by his good reputation and I’m not easily impressed. My instincts, though, tell me he understands how vital education is to the city’s future. I’m totally confident that he is up to the challenge of again making schools the pathway to success. I have no doubt he knows that substandard education serves as a ball and chain around the necks of children who must be proficient in the high-tech information-oriented society of today and tomorrow. Ending the uncertainty that clouds their future must be lifted by any means necessary. But I also understand commitment to change does not necessarily guarantee results.
Roy Roberts couldn’t have landed in the job as EFM during a more tumultuous time. He will inherit a multi-million dollar deficit and a helter-skelter school utilization plan. A lot of businesses and parents are anxiously looking to see if Roy has the will and ability to end a vicious, protracted cycle of incompetence and poor performance.
The coming days and months will set the course for Detroit education for years to come. Expectations are again high. No matter what steps Roy Roberts takes, Johnny won’t learn to read, write or perform at national norms in reading and math until his parent(s) value his education highly enough to get involved.
Still, I choose to believe Roy can overcome this crisis in confidence, be a difference maker and save the school system from a fatal date with destiny.
It will take all the determination and fury Roy can muster, and all the support a hopeful and desperate community can give.