Detroit, Emergency Managers — May 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

UPDATED x2: Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roberts to leave, says he was instructed to “blow up” & “dismantle” district


The truth emerges…

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts announced this morning that he’s stepping down as EM when his contract expires later this month. He said, in his mind, the crisis is over and the DPS is on its way to being financially stable.

“I’m confident that what we have put together is meaningful … if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t leave,” Roberts said. “The deficit elimination plan says we’re going to get rid of the deficit at the end of the 2015-16 school year — and we’re on track for that — and get out of here and turn (DPS) back over to the local people to run it.”

Roberts said something else, however, that shocked those who were present. He told them that his instructions when he took the job were to “blow up the district and dismantle it”.

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said he had expected Roberts to discuss Monday’s upcoming visit by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“When he said, ‘I’m stepping down,’ all of our mouths just dropped,” Johnson said. “I can’t say it’s a bad day. I can’t say it’s a good day, because we don’t know who’s coming next.”

Roberts also told those gathered more shocking news: His initial instructions when he arrived in Detroit were to “blow up the district and dismantle it,” Johnson said.

“He’s got nothing to lose by saying it now,” Johnson added.

Roberts said he spent the first several months of his tenure convincing state officials the district was worth saving, according to board members.

“Blow it up – those were his exact words,” Detroit School Board member Tawana Simpson confirmed.

Board member Reverend David Murray echoed disbelief at Roberts’ statements.

“He told us they wanted this district completely demolished,” Murray said. Roberts refused to do that, the board members said.


It’s one thing have your school district taken over by the state. It’s entirely another to know that those taking it over had plans to destroy it. Roberts’ honesty about this calls the entire Emergency Manager program in Michigan into question. Does Governor Snyder and his administration feel the same way about the cities they have taken over? Are Emergency Managers across Michigan being instructed to “blow up and dismantle” the municipalities over which they have complete and utter control? What other secret directives have been given? The secrecy with which the Snyder administration has operated in, much of which is only now coming to light, make these entirely valid questions.

As for the DPS, they aren’t out of the woods yet. There haven’t been any formal announcements about the DPS being out of their emergency so it seems likely another EM will be appointed.

You have to wonder what instructions that person will receive.

UPDATE: Roberts appears to be walking back his comments or at least ensuring that they weren’t taken to mean that Governor Snyder was the one who “instructed” him to “blow up the district and dismantle it”. The section blockquoted above from the Detroit Free Press article has been edited and now reads like this:

Roberts also told those gathered that when he arrived at DPS, he was told to “blow up” the district and dismantle it, Johnson said.

“Blow it up — those were his exact words,” Detroit School Board member Tawanna Simpson confirmed.

At a news conference today, Roberts said the governor never instructed him to dismantle DPS, but factions from Lansing to Detroit, from community members to educators, had wanted him to make wholesale changes in DPS and “blow it up,” figuratively speaking.

“They had totally given up,” Roberts said. “But we can make it work.”

At the end of the day, I think we all know who the “factions” that Roberts speaks of are. They are the folks who have their hearts set on privatizing as much of Michigan’s public school system as they possibly can. This includes a collection of Michigan Republican lawmakers and, very likely, the DeVos family or at least people aligned with them.

UPDATE 2: I received this from DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts’ office just a short time ago:

It is unfortunate that comments I made this morning during a meeting with members of the Detroit School Board and DPS union presidents to inform them of my decision to retire are being completely mischaracterized.

At no point did I say that Gov. Snyder or his administration had instructed me to dismantle Detroit Public Schools. In fact, he and his team asked me to take on the role of emergency manager in order to save Detroit Public Schools and ensure that the children of Detroit would receive the education they so rightly deserve.

Over the last two years, Gov. Snyder and his administration have never wavered in their support of me, my team, this system and most importantly, the children of Detroit.

[CC photo credit: U.S. Navy | Wikimedia Commons]

  • I think this Freep article has been update since your post; the paragraph immediately following ” “Blow it up — those were his exact words,” Detroit School Board member Tawanna Simpson confirmed. ” Now reads:

    “At a news conference today, Roberts said the governor never instructed him to dismantle DPS, but factions from Lansing to Detroit, from community members to educators, had wanted him to make wholesale changes in DPS and “blow it up,” figuratively speaking.”

  • TeacherPatti

    I believe that he was told (either literally or figuratively) to blow up the system. I’m sure the plan was to put in for profit charters to make someone rich off the kids. (The special ed kids may have remained in a bare bones “public” district since they are very hard to make a profit from). What I want to know is what would have happened between the time the district was “dismantled” and the time the for-profit charters got up and running. Would it have happened over the summer? We saw how that went out in Benton Harbor. Or did Snyder & his ilk just figure, fuck it, they’re just Detroit kids so who cares?

    Have these men no decency?

  • Literally or figuratively the effect was the same, particularly for
    students with special needs. Consider those evicted from Detroit Day School
    for the Deaf due to the arrogance and total ignorance of what center
    base schools provide. Someone needs to make this right and protect
    Oakman, re-open DDSD and get the administrators out of there so the
    children , including preschool can have appropriate leaning environments
    restored, get Catherine Fergusen Academy back under DPS control. What a disaster for those needing wrap around services and others. He “blew it up” for them, for sure! The only thing surprising is not what he was told, but that he actually said it.

  • Z54

    I don’t buy his denial for a minute. Isn’t that the way it always goes? Accidentally slip out a little truth then try to backtrack yourself til you fall?

    • Yeah, he was hoping for a private sector job in the new lucrative edupreneur sector….

  • You know – hell everyone knows this is what the crazies want. He can try to walk back the words but we all know he was just letting it out. The repubs want to ruin this state’s economy, they want to privatize the school system, they want the middle class to slide right into poverty, and they want seniors to pay more – this is so all of snyder’s cronies can make more money. It’s all about greed. Pure greed. It’s about hurting as many people in the middle class so the 1% can make more. We will clean house in 2014. These repubs will be out. I know they are going to do as much damage as they can but no one likes what they’re doing. Everyone sees that it’s wrong for MI. The Democrats will clean up this sleazy disgusting mess. The citizens of this state will vote Democratic and then finally we can get back to what makes this state great.

    • MikeOverHere

      Right? Everything was going swimmingly under Democratic leadership. Why would anyone want to blow it up and start from scratch? Since 1972, Detroit has had a Democratic mayor, and it was the Paris of the Midwest. Parents could raise their families in MoTown and be sure their kids would go to a decent school.

      Ha ha. Just kidding. Detroit is a cesspool and has been since, well, about 1972.

  • Now doesn’t Mr. Nelson’s update put the comment in an entirely different light? And doesn’t it make you question “news” sources that choose to leave out a few words which then creates an entirely different dynamic in the quote? I believe that anyone who has seen the Detroit school system, even around the periphery, would agree that dismantling and rebuilding is, and has been, long required.

  • diremoon

    I think that after his first comments, the DeVos and ALEC goons had a little talk with him. Snyder is nothing more than a sock puppet for them. I have little doubt that their intentions are to profitize the school system.

  • Inattentive Vigilant

    Of course it was figurative. Who thinks his instructions were to literally blow up e district? The problem isn’t that distinction, the problem is his instructions to dismantle the DPS. And it’s quite safe to assume this was the goal to crush the unions once and for all, and turn DPS into a for profit industry.

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  • Wow Im scared !!!!!!!

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