Education, Emergency Managers, Republican-Fail — March 31, 2016 at 12:05 pm

For Michigan schools, CEO is the new Emergency Manager – Now with more POWER!


The ultimate expression of running government like a business

Earlier this month, I reported about a new approach being taken by Gov. Rick Snyder when it comes to taking over schools with unelected overseers. Because the term “Emergency Manager” is now a national expletive, he has changed the title to school district “Chief Executive Officer (CEO)”. The first school district to be put under the control of an appointed CEO is East Detroit Public Schools:

It’s not clear under what authorization this is being done. However, given that the CEO “will have jurisdiction over all instructional and financial decisions”, it appears to be an Emergency Manager with a new name, one that avoids the now-toxic “Emergency Manager” moniker.

Unsurprisingly, the new paradigm features testing, testing, and more testing as if this was somehow part of the educational process. These poor East Detroit students will now be tested at least once every two months, taking away from precious instructional time.

A new op-ed written by Michigan State Board of Education Vice President Casandra Ulbrich for The Detroit News reveals just how far this is being taken. In a word, VERY:

Recently, the state school reform officer (SRO) argued before the Legislature that the office needs a $1 million supplemental appropriation this year, and an additional $5 million next fiscal year, to hire school CEOs.

The difference between a CEO and an emergency manager: a CEO has more authority.

The SRO can appoint a CEO to take over any school across the state. In additional to controlling the finances for those schools, an appointed CEO also has the authority over all academics in the school.

Which means the CEO can:

  • Assume the financial and academic authority over multiple schools;
  • Assume the role of the locally elected school board for those schools they have been assigned;
  • Control all funds attributable to pupils at the school without the consent of the locally elected board;
  • Permanently close a school without the consent of the locally elected board;
  • Sell closed school buildings without the consent of the locally elected board; and
  • Convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board.

There isn’t much of a role for citizens in this process, the roll-out of which has already begun in the East Detroit School District. And, if these funds are appropriated, this may be coming to your city next.

The renaming of Emergency Managers as CEOs is the ultimate expression of the concept of “running government like a business”. Gov. Snyder claims that, for him, “running government like a business” means using data and metrics to build positive change. However, in actual application, it means putting a single individual in charge of running the show and doing it in a way that prioritizes test scores and cost savings over actual outcomes that will benefit the students.

Keep in mind, too, that just over a year ago Gov. Snyder took the School Reform Office away from the Department of Education and put it under the control of the State Department of Technology, Management and Budget. It’s entirely appropriate given that the focus is not about education and children and is entirely about budgets and financial concerns. And, despite the fact that these school district CEOs will have full control over a district’s academic program, there is nothing in the job description – in fact, there is no job description at all! – requiring these men and women to have a background in the education of children.

Although “running government like a business” has proven to be a utterly failed model – seven years of Emergency Manager-imposed austerity measures on Detroit Public Schools has done nothing to improve student outcomes, fix the dilapidated buildings, or decrease the debt (which has, in fact, risen) – Gov. Snyder is doubling down on the concept. What’s astonishing is how much it has completely flown under the radar. Gov. Snyder is pulling an epic sleight of hand move to cement his policies in place under a new moniker and he’s doing it without new legislation or any of the public dialogue that comes with that. It’s the same lack of scrutiny and public input that led to us having an Emergency Manager Law in the first place.