Detroit, Education, Emergency Managers, Teachers — August 27, 2014 at 9:31 am

Facing massive public outcry Detroit Schools Emergency Manager backs down from draconian cuts & slashing teacher wages


This post has been edited to clarify that the fine arts program at Detroit’s Renaissance High School is being saved.

Just a week after Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin, announced draconian cuts to schools, higher class sizes, a second round of pay cuts for teachers, and the closing of 24 schools, he has changed his mind:

After a public outcry, the Detroit Public Schools is walking back plans to cut teacher pay and boost class sizes.

The district is battling a $127 million deficit, and the Michigan Department of Education approved its revised deficit elimination plan last week.

It called for cutting teachers’ pay by 10% (on top of another 10% pay cut imposed in 2011), and putting up to 43 students in some classrooms.

Those cost-cutting measures sparked a big furor, drawing protests from teachers, parents, community leaders and even some elected officials, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

On Tuesday, DPS emergency manager Jack Martin announced the district was backing off those moves.

In order to do this, Martin is proposing extending the DPS deficit elimination plan by two years. Other options include “further staff reductions through restructuring and process re-engineering efficiencies; potential additional layoffs of non-school-based employees and the pursuit of additional grant funds.”

Class sizes will remain the same. They stay at 25 students for grades K-3, 33 students for grades 4 and 5, and 38 students for grades 6-12.

Martin also reiterated that no schools are in the budget for closing this year. That’s the first time it’s happened in six years.

They also created a new gifted and talented school program; extended the dual immersion bilingual programs into 9th grade; expanded the career academy and adult education programming; supported a K-12 International Baccalaureate program at Cass Tech; added a prep period for K-8 teachers and expanded programs for early childhood families.

The district also announced it will expand Pre-K opportunities, bring the total number to 205 classrooms. That includes additional Great Start Readiness Program seats, new Title I classrooms and partnerships with two non-profit agencies to bring 0-5 programs into schools this year.

Another controversial subject was the cancelation of art and music programs. Martin says art and music programs are actually expanding in both elementary and middle schools.

Martin’s full statement is below.

This is terrific news and points to the importance of citizen engagement and pressure on all fronts including rallies, meetings, social media, and other forms of pushback.

Thankfully, the internationally-acclaimed fine arts program at Renaissance High School will be saved. The program allows students to travel around the world sharing their talents and is used to attract students to Detroit’s top high school. Its potential loss was seen as a betrayal by some:

“They lured these parents and students under the promise of a program that no longer exist,” said DPS School Board President LaMar Lemmons. “I’s the classic case of bait and switch and false advertising.”

A petition that was created to save the program can be found HERE. If you read the comments on the petition, you begin to understand just how important this excellent program is to many students, past and present.

Here are some other examples, these from a Facebook posting about the potential loss of the fine arts program at Renaissance High School:

There are also some excellent quotes in this Detroit Free Press article.

These sorts of moves, if they had been taken, would have further weakened an already struggling school system and ensured its demise. While EM Martin’s decision to take a different path is welcomed, it shows how vigilant we must all be to keep these issues in public view. Without that public pressure, he would never have changed his mind and without that pressure, the anti-public school forces will continue to chip away at DPS and other districts until the entire public school system is disbanded in favor of for-profit charters which benefit those working to kill off public schools in Michigan at the taxpayers’ expense.

Here is Emergency Manager Martin’s full statement:

August 26, 2014

Dear Detroit Public Schools Staff,

There is no doubt that two of the most significant challenges facing the district are the continued elimination of Detroit Public Schools’ $127 million projected deficit and the legal requirement that DPS and other school districts and cities must have balanced budgets — at the same time district revenues continue to be significantly reduced.

This revenue reduction played strongly into the strategies that were developed and included in the District’s most recent Deficit Elimination Plan, which was required to be submitted on Aug. 15, 2014. As you are all aware, these strategies included the particularly difficult decision to cut employee compensation by an additional 10 percent, assuming that it would facilitate an expedited approval of our Deficit Elimination Plan, which was needed for the District’s annual State Aid borrowing.

However, because the Deficit Elimination Plan is a living, breathing document that is subject to change, I have decided to amend this plan and am announcing that the district will not be implementing the additional 10 percent wage reduction for district employees.

Since the wage cut was announced last week and, in fact since before it was submitted, I have been working with Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Bill Aldridge and his team to identify alternate strategies to reduce and eliminate the deficit.

The alternate strategies that have been identified and may be implemented include, but are not limited to: not filling budgeted vacant positions (based on current vacancies and those that will come from attrition); further staff reductions through restructuring and process re-engineering efficiencies; potential additional layoffs of non-school-based employees (teacher service will, however, be consistent with per-school student enrollment); additional surplus real estate sales; continued, responsible expense reductions; and, the pursuit of additional grant funds.

Additionally, as I have said numerous times before, the retention and attraction of students is absolutely critical to the District’s future. And, this school year’s, as well as future enrollment, will be a key determinant in not only the reduction of our deficit, but more importantly, creating a sustainable school system.

I know that many of our educators, as well as our parents, have expressed grave concern about the District’s proposed increase in class size by five students in grades 4-12. While we have taken steps and developed strategies designed to mitigate any potential negative impact, the only sure way to avoid impacting students’ learning environment is to not increase class sizes.

Therefore, I am also announcing that Detroit Public Schools will keep class sizes at the same level as last year.

Class sizes will remain at 25 for grades K-3 (which would not have been altered even under the previous plan), 33 for grades 4 and 5, and 38 for grades 6-12. However, I do feel that it is important to mention that based on average daily attendance, DPS’ class size across the district last year averaged 16 students.

It is my hope that any parent that was considering taking their child out of a DPS school will reconsider and have them remain with their teachers and classmates for another year. Why? Because we’ve seen steady improvements in academic achievement and we are all committed to ensuring that this continues. Also, I am certain that our principals, teachers and instructional staff are 100 percent dedicated to helping our students achieve and grow both academically and as individuals.

To assist the District in covering the costs of rolling back these two strategies, DPS is proposing the extension of its Deficit Elimination Plan through 2021. At that time, not only will the deficit be eliminated, but the District will also be free of its legacy debt, which is currently at $53 million a year.

Detroit Public Schools’ sole focus is and must remain providing the highest quality education possible to the children of Detroit. I believe that these announcements will assist us in maintaining this focus.

I would also like to challenge you to share the positive developments in our school district, such as new strategic initiatives designed to bolster enrollment being offered this year, including:

  • No school closings for the 2014-15 School Year: For the first time in six years, the budget does not call for the closure of any schools for the 2014-15 school year, which the district has come to understand can have an extremely adverse impact on enrollment, recruitment, retention and revenues;
  • A renewed commitment to working with all partners on ensuring safe and healthy environments for all students, including on the routes to and from school;
  • Creation of a new gifted and talented school program;
  • Extension of successful dual immersion bilingual programs into a 9th grade collegiate prep setting;
  • Expansion of Career Academy and adult educational regional center programming;
  • Support for a K-12 International Baccalaureate program and new International Baccalaureate
    program at Cass Technical High School;
  • Addition of a prep period for K-8 teachers;
  • Expansion of programs for early childhood families, through reorganizing current programs and securing private and foundation support;
  • Art/Music expansion for elementary and middle schools. Across the district, DPS provides robust instrumental music, choral music, general music and visual arts instruction to help every student reach their full academic and creative potential.

Other tangible progress, thanks to your collective efforts, includes that the number of newly enrolled high school students reached a three-year high, and increased by more than 50 percent from the 2012-13 school year; Detroit Public Schools continues an upward academic trajectory, having closed the gap with state peers in all five subjects on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) since 2011; DPS’ 2014 seniors earned nearly $138 million in scholarships and grants; DPS this year had five Gates Millennium Scholars; and Renaissance High School was named the best high school in Detroit by U.S. News and World Report.

We also announced today that the District will expand the number of Pre-Kindergarten opportunities, bringing to 205 the total number of classrooms. The programs include additional Great Start Readiness Program seats, new Title I classrooms, two of which will hold ribbon cuttings today, and partnerships with two non-profit agencies to bring 0-5 programs into schools this school year.

We appreciate the support of our staff, parents, partners, stakeholders and the media in rallying around Detroit Public Schools at this critical time to ensure the greater community is aware – and that they “see” and “believe” in — the great things happening at our schools.

I thank you for your continued hard work and your ongoing commitment to Detroit’s children, and look forward to working with you to make this a successful school year.

Jack Martin
Emergency Manager