Leading Source

Detroit’s cost-cutting proposal, overly dramatic, logistically infeasible, intentionally thought-provoking

1194985021415637292axe_peterm__svg_medI’m not sure how to react to a Detroit Public School proposal to close nearly half of the city’s schools over the next two years—and boost class sizes to as high as 62.

On the face of it, the proposal is ludicrous. Not only will it not pass political muster, the logistical problems in finding classrooms big enough for 60+ students makes talk about the instructional issues rather pointless.

So it’s obvious this “the sky is falling” plan—proposed by Robert Bobb, the state-appointed emergency financial manager for DPS—is simply making a dramatic point about the school system’s dire financial situation.

I suppose that’s fair enough. Confronted with shrinking enrollment, a decline in property taxes and state aid, and a huge budget deficit, Bobb has no choice but to shutter dozens of schools, cut staff, and boost class sizes.

So he might as well shock folks with apocalyptic visions of the future—so everyone is so numb with shock that they accept more modest, yet still painful measures.

Of course, before that happens, Bobb will need to weather the inevitable firestorm of criticism. But I’m betting that’s part of his plan—let people vent before talking about less-traumatic change.

Certainly the venting is under way. According to the Detroit News, Keith Johnson, president of the teachers union, dismisses Bobb’s worst-case scenario as unacceptable.

“I will never agree to any class-size increases,” Johnson told the News. “These increases are antithetical to learning. Secondly, our classrooms aren’t even built to accommodate those numbers.”

Meanwhile, parents are chiming in. “Parent Petrina Johnson said swelling high school classrooms to 60 students or more will only leave them uneducated,” the News reports. Said the mother of three: “There is one teacher and she can barely get to each of the 36 kids now. That makes no sense.”

Of course it doesn’t. Talk about using a lecture hall model, similar to that used at a university, won’t work—even if truly huge classes are limited to older high school students. Struggling kids will fall through the cracks.

But Bobb has made his point. The troubled Detroit school system confronts more financial and demographic challenges than any other school system in the nation. And painful change is inevitable.

How painful? Things are so bad that Bobb says the district could save another $12.5 million if it ‘simply abandons’ soon-to-be-closed buildings.

After all, would you buy real estate in Detroit these days?

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 13th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|Tags: , , |

Leave a Reply