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]