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U.S. hears Detroiters’ school woes

U.S. Dept. of Ed. visits Detroit to listen to parents, educators

By Marcus Wright
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — U.S. Department of Education officials received an earful Aug. 30 from Detroit’s disgruntled parents, teachers and community activists regarding the dictatorial governance of the Detroit Public School (DPS) system under emergency managers.

The meeting was held in Detroit City Council Chambers and chaired by Councilmember JoAnn Watson. The comments and question were directed to Communications and Education Outreach Director Peter Cunningham, Domestic Policy Council official Steve Robinson and Office of Intergovernmental Affairs of the Department of Education representative Stacey Jordan.

Elected DPS Board President LaMar Lemmons addressed the federal team. Lemmons brought them up to date on the numerous state takeovers that have left DPS in its current state. Lemmons said Gov. John Engler orchestrated the first takeover in 1999 after Detroiters approved a $1.5 billion capital improvement bond.

Engler signed Public Act 10, which dissolved the elected board, imposed a state-appointed board and instructed it to hire Kenneth Burnley as CEO. “When Burnley became CEO, the DPS had a $93 million surplus,” Lemmons said. “There were 162,000 students, and test scores were ranked in the middle statewide and improving.”

When Burnley left, there was a $230 million debt, declining enrollment and sliding scores.

Wayne State University Professor Dr. Tom Pedroni explained who he said are the players and who is being played. According to Dr. Pedroni, corporations have instituted a market approach to education, and they’re getting paid.

“Parents are looked upon as good shoppers instead of as good voters,” he said. “The result of this ‘market orientation’ that speaks the language of products, deliverables, efficiency, profit-margin, assets has turned our schools into prison pipelines. They never mention true equity and social justice for our children.”

Pedroni said big business, big foundations, coin-operated politicians, the university/nonprofit industrial complex are “waging war against us.”

Community activist Barry Ross likened the situation to a country in which citizens are subjected to the whims of a tyrant.

“We’re being treated as subjects,” Ross said. “(Gov. Rick) Snyder and his emergency managers are doing whatever they want to do.”

Former teacher and current attorney Tracy A. Peters said there are a number of legal arguments against the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the statewide district.

“Foremost, is it is not a statewide district,” Peters said.

Peters said the EAA is an example of what happens when legislators make laws without consulting parents and teachers. She said quick change may work for Lansing, but it does not work for students. “Last minute is bad for kids — take your time, Lansing, and plan it,” Peters said.

Minister Malik Shabazz accused Emergency Manager Roy Roberts — now emergency financial manager — of misappropriation of funds. According to Shabazz Mumford High School, a Detroit Public School was sold to the EAA for $1. “This is theft,” Shabazz said. “The feds should look into this.

Cunningham spoke for the Department of Education group. He said he appreciated the information but reminded those present that education is a state’s right issue. He said he and the team would share their findings with the Department of Education, but did not indicate when Detroiters could expect a response.

Contact Marcus Wright at marcuswright@michigancitizen.com

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