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DPS funds disappear under EM Roberts

2012-13 budget reflects drastic shift to new state district

By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — This school year the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), a statewide school district for so-called low-performing schools, will take over 15 former DPS schools and the federal dollars that come with them. The combined budgets of the EAA and DPS, $880 million, will be controlled by DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and leaves little oversight by parents or the community.

In 1999, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) had an estimated $1.5 billion budget. Thirteen years of state-mandated reform, salary cuts and school closures by state-appointed emergency managers (EMs) has cut that budget by almost half.

Roberts’ state mandate assures that any budget actions he has taken will not be contested by Detroit residents or any elected officials.

“The state’s will is more important than the people’s will,” said Detroit Board of Education member Ida Short. “The bottom line is: We’re financing an institution that the public has no control over.”

On June 27, Roberts announced the 2012-13 DPS budget of $784 million based on a projected population of 51,927 students. Those numbers were achieved by cutting 1,889 DPS jobs, closing nine more schools and the annexation of the 15 EAA schools.

It’s the second consecutive year that Roberts has cut the DPS budget by nearly 25 percent.

Many believe the 22.4 percent loss in DPS students over the last year is largely due to closures driving parents to surrounding school districts or the EAA, which will absorb DPS students. The new district begins operations this year.

EAA Deputy Chancellor Rebecca Lee-Gwin hosted an EAA budget hearing on June 28 at the Michigan State University Center on Woodward.

Lee-Gwin announced an EAA budget of $96 million in 2012-13 for a projected 9,309 students, all from the DPS.

The EAA will operate on a 210-day school year compared to the traditional 170 days.

She also estimated that the EAA would expand in 2013 and 2014, adding at least 30 more schools each year.

Detroit Board of Education member Elena Herrada, one of only a dozen people in attendance, later told the Michigan Citizen that by transferring DPS resources to the EAA, Gov. Rick Snyder and EM Roberts are assuring that the EAA has a steady stream of revenue through federal grants only allotted to poorer school districts. The EAA also signals the end of DPS, Herrada said.

As a so-called “state-wide district,” the EAA is currently banned from receiving local tax revenue.

“Class one districts get more federal grant money per pupil than any other,” Herrada says. “So the state and the EM become the fiduciary, controlling millions of federal dollars, including all the Title I monies. They could starve Detroit as much as they want.”

Board of Education member Lamar Lemmons has repeatedly asked Roberts for an audit of all DPS resources that have been allocated for the EAA, with little response.

“They cherry-picked districts with federal monies already in them,” Lemmons says. “They’re trying to give the EAA a great advantage, put DPS into bankruptcy and give it to the charters. Remember that, right now, neither charter schools nor the EAA have any bonding authority.”

Lemmons added that as the largest district in Michigan, state officials could make special appropriations for the EAA and the doors would open to more federal grants.

Seven of the 10 DPS schools receiving federal Student Improvement Grants (SIG) were chosen by EM Roberts and EAA Chancellor John Covington to be a part of the EAA.

SIG schools receive an additional $4 million each over five years from the U.S. Department of Education.

On June 29, Gov. Snyder announced $10 million in additional funding for the EAA — part of a bill that re-appropriated monies formerly designated for the Michigan Community and Health Services.

“It seems like the funding for the EAA is wherever they can get it,” says State Board of Education member Marianne McGuire. “The story changes from day to day. We’re never sure where the money comes from.”

State subsidies and private foundation grants from national charter advocates like Eli Broad and Bill Gates have allowed the EAA to begin operations without the benefit of local school millage receipts, or any local revenues at all.

The use of state taxes for EAA operations further raises the issue of taxation without representation, according to Board of Education member Short.

She says taking local, state or federal taxes for use in an education model with no public input or representation comes with serious repercussions.

“The EAA eliminates the democratic process because it eliminates the parents from the process,” Short says. “This violates all of the democratic principals of the Constitution.”

Contact Eric T. Campbell at ericcampbell@michigancitizen.com


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