Detroit, Education, Emergency Managers, Gary Peters — June 11, 2014 at 10:11 am

Under Emergency Management Detroit Public Schools loses Headstart funding for nearly 1,000 kids


Back in 2012, Pontiac Emergency Manager Louis Schimmel signed an agreement with Oakland County to manage monies from a substantial HUD grant. That turned out to be a nearly disasterous decision that would have resulted in a loss of upwards of $800,000 per year for Pontiac. Thankfully, Congressman Gary Peters stepped in a saved the day (and the money.)

At the time Congressman Peters had this to say about the situation:

“Emergency managers come in and are focused on balancing budgets in the short term, and because of that they make decisions that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the city,” he said. “They’re interested in taking things off books to make their job a little easier. That may be be good for them but it’s not good for the city. “It highlights why we have to have elected officials, accountable to the people.”

This week, we have another example of an Emergency Manager’s lack of good management when it comes to finances (which are, of course, the very thing they are hired to oversee.) Thanks to a missed deadline, Detroit Public Schools which are run by Emergency Manager Jack Martin have forfeited their federal funding for the Headstart program, around $4 million, which offers free early education to nearly 1,000 Detroit kids.

At a time when parents, educators and state officials are pushing to make sure every Michigan child has access to quality preschool, almost 1,000 low-income Detroit 4-year-olds may not get free, federally-funded classrooms because Detroit Public School officials botched the paperwork.

DPS failed to complete the application process for the Head Start preschool program on time. The result: Head Start classrooms are being shuttered across the city, with the district promising to offer 4-year-olds other programs funded by Michigan taxpayers instead.

During the 2013-14 school year, DPS had more than 900 Head Start students in about 56 classrooms, public records show. […]

The Head Start grant announcements were made in February, but word spread last week when some DPS schools were told to tag and send back any preschool furniture or equipment that was purchased with Head Start funds.

The outrage over this atrocious error has been swift and brutal. President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers Keith Johnson’s response is typical and spot-on:

It’s really unfortunate in a district that can’t afford to lose a dime. How do you not get your I’s dotted and T’s crossed, knowing early childhood is a focal point in our district?

Minding the finances of the school districts and municipalities that they control is “Job One” for Emergency Managers. When they fail to do so in a way that protects the community, they cannot be held accountable because they answer to nobody but the Governor. As Congressman Peters said 2012, this is exactly why we need locally-elected, accountable officials in these positions.

Adding… I’m getting some pushback saying this wasn’t the fault of the Emergency Manager but, rather, one of his administrators. Fine. I agree. But the fact remains that an Emergency Manager was brought into the Detroit Public School system explicitly to correct what many saw was incompetence within DPS. Mission not accomplished.