Education, Emergency Managers — November 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Snyder admin’s solution to Detroit schools’ truancy problem: take away more of their funding


There’s no debate over whether or not there are problems with the Detroit Public School system. It’s a decades-old problem made worse by a dwindling city population, higher-than-ever poverty levels and, in some cases, malfeasance, corruption and outright criminal activity by some. Although they are improving with respect to school attendance, Detroit still has big problems in that regard, too.

The Snyder administration has decided that the best way to solve that problem is simply to fine the school system, one that it already struggling due to reduced aid from the state and from lower revenues from its shrinking tax base, by fining them. Maybe by as much as $25.9 million.

State officials are weighing how much to penalize Detroit Public Schools for persistent truancy, a problem that could cost the financially troubled district up to $25.9 million, according to documents obtained by The Detroit News.

In the past school year, attendance at DPS fell below the state minimum of 75 percent on 46 days. The district says it is bracing for a loss of the full amount, though the Michigan Department of Education expects a much lower final figure. […]

Steve Wasko, a DPS spokesman, acknowledged the district could lose up to $25.9 million for low attendance last year but said the district is doing better this fall, typically a time when more students stay home.

“Anecdotally, at the beginning of the year we have low attendance,” Wasko said. “We finally turned that trend around this year. Last year, we didn’t get the full 75 percent of attendance until the 10th day of school. This year, we reached on the fifth day of school.” He credited aggressive recruitment and an attendance drive for the uptick.

Last year’s lowest attendance rate occurred Dec. 13, when DPS stayed open after a snowstorm while 400 other school districts statewide closed. Just 21.4 percent of students made it to school that day, a rate that could cost the district $2.28 million.

Other times that tend to have low attendance include four scheduled half-days and the first and last weeks of school. On those days last school year, attendance dropped between 31 percent and 50 percent, according to DPS records. The district could lose as much as $1 million for each of those days.

I am having an exceedingly difficult time understanding how taking even more money out of this already hard-hit school sytem is going to solve this issue. And, let’s not forget a couple of other important things. First, the Snyder administration took $1 billion away from Michigan schools this year. More importantly, why is state-appointed Emergency Manager Roy Roberts (or his predecessor, Robert Bobb) not being held responsible, at least in part, for these results? No longer a Emergency FINANCIAL Manager, Roberts has complete control over the school district. Why is the school system he’s been charged to fix having to pay the price, a price that only makes their situation more precarious?

Where is the state’s accountability in this? Could it be that Detroit Public Schools’ problems can’t simply be solved by outsourcing and privatizing all of their services or by breaking the union contracts that didn’t cause the problems to begin with? Could it be that vilifying their teachers won’t make things better?

Could it be?