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DSA parents: Imposed board an obstacle

DSA boardmembers Stuart Frankel, Glenda Price, Lester Monts

DSA boardmembers Stuart Frankel, Glenda Price, James Kelley

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Parents, teachers and students of Detroit School of the Arts High School (DSA) have discovered that being a self-governing school means even less self-government.

“More autonomy and outside input,” is the promise of the nine self-governing Detroit Public Schools, according to Emergency Manager Roy Roberts.

Yet when the Roberts-appointed DSA governing board met for its fifth monthly meeting Oct. 15, parents and students expressed anger over what one parent said “is just another level of bureaucracy between us and decisions affecting our children.”

“I don’t think you know enough about our school to change it,” said DSA senior Kayla Robinson, who asked what the board was going to do about the 47 students in her physics class.

Former dance teacher Mayowa Lisa Reynolds told the board: “It’s as if you are starting all over. We’re starting off with less than we had last year. You are not building on what exists. … You’ve been fooled, but we’ve been disenfranchised.”

Parent Karima Sorel said, “It’s terrifying knowing that we have a structure in place that has served these students and is now being thrown out of the window while this governing board attempts to duct tape together an operation.”

The comments were addressed to the board of seven appointees that include President Stuart Frankel, a real estate developer from Oakland County who lists 31 properties on his Web site but no investments in Detroit; Elizabeth Birr Moje, a University of Michigan professor who has federal and foundation grants to research “what motivates adolescents in Detroit schools and communities to persevere in the face of content literacy challenges;” Glenda Price, the former president of Marygrove college who sat on the first DPS state takeover board and the recent advisory committee that sent Detroit into the consent agreement; Katy Locker, an attorney and current program director for the Hudson-Webber Foundation; Dr. James Kelly, founding president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and former co-director of Strategic Management of Human Capital, a group that promotes applying business evaluation and management strategies to schools; Dr. Lester Monts, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs of University of Michigan and senior counselor to the president for the Arts, Diversity and Undergraduate Affairs; and Arthur F. Thurnau, professor of Music.

Roy Roberts picked De Aidre Ashford as the parent representative.

DSA is an 18-year-old world renown institution. Founded in 1992 by Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton, in 2005 the school moved into a $135 million building — financed by the first bond issue — on land donated by the Detroit Symphony. Students perform annually at Carnegie Hall, received the Kennedy Center Creative Ticket National Arts School of Distinction Award for the 2002-03 school year, and perform on stages around the world. Since Roy Roberts became emergency manager, the DPS Web site reveals the school has lost experienced teachers with training in their respective arts and suffered declining test scores.

In June, the newly appointed governing board selected Ahna Felix-Brown to act as interim principal while they conduct a search for a permanent principal. Because Felix-Brown is not qualified, the board granted her a six-month extension to become certified.

Of immediate concern to parents and teachers at the meeting was the loss of support staff, including three accompanists, overcrowded classrooms and maintenance of equipment. Parents brought copies of the budget to the meeting, but parents cannot speak during the governing board meetings and their questions and concerns are not answered or addressed by the board until the following month’s meeting, if then.

Frankel, who admitted during the meeting that he had only seen the budget 20 minutes prior, commented that DPS makes “unilateral decision without our input.” He said he was to meet with DPS officials the next morning and would ask that the $27,000 budgeted for athletics be put toward a “more appropriate category.” DSA has no athletic program.

Many parents questioned why 3 percent of the total school budget was going to Doug Ross, who heads the newly created Office of Innovation. Many parents and teachers complained that calls to Ross’s office were not returned. They questioned why he needed the money. Ross, a former appointee of Gov. John Engler, heads the University Prep charter schools but has also been appointed by Roy Roberts to direct the DPS charters and self-governing schools. It is an appointment many see as creating a conflict of interest.

Steve Wasko, communications director for Roy Roberts, said the self-governing schools are in their first year and it is a transition year. He said he had not heard of any problems or discontent with the self-governing boards.

The budget problems have arisen, Wasko said, because budgets were prepared before the self-governing boards took over. Wasko said the 3 percent of each school’s funds going to Doug Ross office was a smaller percentage going to administration than before. It was Roy Roberts’ vision, he said, that the self-governing schools would operate more efficiently.

Lamar Lemmons, president of the elected DPS board, said of the self-governing boards: “We have made it perfectly clear there is only one board. In theory, I support site-based management. It provides consistency. The problem with these boards (is that) they were not chosen from the community; we don’t know who these people are. None of them have come to introduce themselves to the board and say what it is they have to offer.”

In August, after the Supreme Court ordered the repeal of Public Act 4 was to go on the ballot, Judge John Murphy ordered that the elected DPS board was in charge of academics.

The Nov. 6 election is key to the future of DPS. Wasko said many decisions depend on the outcome of the election that “could affect relationships” and that many decisions are on hold until ballot Proposal 1 and the emergency manager law is decided.

If enough “no” votes are cast and Public Act 4 is eliminated, Lemmons said the duly elected board will evaluate the effectiveness and necessity of the individuals serving on the self-governing boards.

To view governing board meeting, visit www.dsalsco.org

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