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Chaos continues in DPS

Superintendent of academics snubs board, says she doesn’t know who to report to

By Victor Walker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — A struggle for authority over Detroit Public Schools (DPS) ensues amid court hearings, misinformation and budget issues, making it unclear to some who is actually running the district.

During a DPS board meeting Dec. 13, President LaMar Lemmons reaffirmed the body’s authority over the state’s largest school district. Lemmons vowed to clean up the district’s top-heavy administration and address issues related to how information is shared in the district.

An Aug. 8 decision by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John Murphy gave academic control to the elected board and made clear that DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts was in control of financial decisions for the district. However, the board asserts that this arrangement may be a conflict of interest.

Karen Ridgeway

Karen Ridgeway addresses the DPS Board

Superintendent of Academics Karen Ridgeway arrived to the meeting with what appeared to be a plain-clothed officer securing her person. Appointed in 2011 by former Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, Ridgeway seemed to be confused about who she is expected to report to.

During her report, Ridgeway said she had been meeting “in good faith” with interim superintendent John Telford. However, Lemmons identified information and actions taken prior to Aug. 8 that neither Telford nor the board had been made aware of.

“You’re disrespecting this body by omitting information that should be reported to Dr. Telford,” Lemmons told Ridgeway.

When the board president asked if she understood that she was expected to report only to Telford as it relates to academics, Ridgeway said she didn’t and stated she had “no understanding of where we are right now.”

Ridgeway was asked who else in addition to Telford she reports to. She admitted she reports directly to Roberts.

Board member Ida Short asked Ridgeway whether she felt there was a conflict of interest reporting to Dr. Telford and Roy Roberts, to which she said she did not.

“It’s like the wild wild west out here. People are doing whatever they want with no regard for authority. Someone needs to figure out who’s running this operation,” said retired teacher James Bennett during public comment.

Lemmons claims the district has been deliberately sabotaged and has suffered “irreparable damage” as a result of having an emergency manager, financial or otherwise. He alleges that there are finance irregularities including the backdating of contracts and bonuses given to employees while under an EFM.

“The state has created the debt and used the debt to take over the district. That’s like beating someone up then arresting them for being ugly,” Lemmons said.

Short added there is something less than genuine about how the state “exacerbated the debt, then (told) us we’re not worth anything.”

Other alleged irregularities in the district include the hiring of inexperienced, uncertified teachers from nonprofit organization Teach for America teachers to replace certified and laid off teachers who have been overlooked.

The board and Roberts return to court Dec. 21 to have Wayne County Judge Annette Berry address some of these issues.

Contact Victor Walker at victorwalker@gmail.com

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