EM Roberts says he’s leaving, but not going far
DETROIT—“I’m leaving, but I won’t be far….I’m leaving, but I won’t be gone….I’m leaving, but I’ll still be here.”
DPS Emergency manager Roy Roberts announced his retirement to board members at his 14th floor offices at the Fischer Building May 2. However, after the meeting, board members said he sounded as though he would still be around, telling them after his contract expired May 16, he would serve as a consultant.
Members were not aware of media reports of his retirement as they went into a meeting.
Appointed two years ago by Gov. Rick Snyder, Roberts term was marked with conflict. He closed schools without public input including the Detroit Day School for the Deaf, expanded charterization of the district and gave to the state 15 schools– and all their contents– to help Snyder create the experimental Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). It came to light last week that Roberts had used DPS borrowing authority to help keep the EAA going this year, the district’s first.
Throughout his term, board members and citizens said Roberts’ actions were destroying the district. During the meeting, however, Roberts said the governor had told him on taking the EM post that he wanted the district dismantled. Roberts said he spent the first seven months of his term challenging the governor to not dismantle DPS, member Tawana Simpson reported after the meeting.
Emergency management started under Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008 when she named Robert Bobb EM to manage the district debt. The DPS debt had been created under the first state takeover initiated by former Gov. John Engler in 1999. Bobb doubled the debt from $127 million to $320 million.
Roberts replaced Bobb and renegotiated the debt which, according to board Vice President Herman Davis had carried a 50 percent interest rate. By the sale of a $200 million bond issue, Roberts deferred that portion of the debt for 20 years, enabling him to say he had reduced the debt.
Roberts refused to relinquish academic control to the elected board after the repeal of Public Act 4 and reinstatement of PA 72 which gives only financial control to the EM. A lawsuit resulted and, according to board members, despite the court’s affirmation that Roberts did not have academic control, nothing changed.
Now board members question the need for appointment of another EM. “Is there still a financial deficit?” Juvette Hawkins-Williams asked after the meeting with Roberts. While Roberts said he has made a recommendation to the governor for the next emergency manager appointment, he said during a press conference the district was solid.
“As far as I’m concerned, the district is fixed,” Roberts said.
Board members say at their May 9 meeting they will discuss the financial condition of the district for the purpose of removing emergency management from DPS.
At his farewell press conference, Roberts also confirmed what members of the state’s urban district boards have been saying for decades and which Republicans have denied: That money is a problem.
“Education is my first love. I love academics,” Roberts said telling a story of his school years to demonstrate his value of academic achievement. “I don’t have money to do what I need to do,” he said after noting that DPS receives $7200 per pupil while suburban districts have $14,200 per pupil allowance.
Chief Financial Officer William Aldridge will assume the added role of Chief Administrative Officer, according to Roberts, “moving forward with the title of Chief Financial and Administrative Officer.”
Aldridge will replace computer systems in human resources and finances.
Board members, who were summoned the night before by Roberts for the meeting were conflicted. PA 436, the new EM law requires board members to respond if the EM calls them, but the Open Meetings Act demands that meetings of the board be announced to the public 18 hours ahead of the meeting.
“What’s a board member under emergency management to do,” questioned member Elena Herrada.
Member Simpson said following the meeting that the members had agreed that if a quorum were present, they would walk out rather than violate Open Meetings. No quorum was ever present.
Roberts said he will be spending more time with his “own personal wife.”