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Under EM, schools not ready to open

DPS board stunned Roberts told judge schools were set

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Stunned that Emergency Manager Roy Roberts had misled the court into believing the schools were ready to open, the elected Detroit Board of Education moved to right matters at its special called meeting Aug. 16 at Frederick Douglass Academy, the former Murray Wright.

“Are we ready to open?” Board President Lamar Lemmons asked Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) President Keith Johnson.

“No,” Johnson said, with emphasis. “No letters have gone out rescinding the layoffs or with work assignments.”

Third Circuit Judge John A. Murphy ruled Aug. 14 that control of academics be returned to the elected DPS board. The EM will retain fiscal control. Murphy will supervise any conflicts that arise between the two parties until voters decide Nov. 6 whether Public Act 4 (PA4) should continue. Roberts initiated the suit seeking complete authority over the district once the Board of Canvassers okayed the 226,000 petition signatures and placed the ref-erendum on the ballot, at which time PA4 was suspended and, according to the judge, the district reverted to Public Act 72, a weaker form of emergency man-agement where fiscal and academic powers are split.

In the past two years under EMs Roberts and Robert Bobb, all teachers received layoff notices prior to the end of the school year and spent the summer not knowing if or where they would be teaching. Students returning to school in the fall often did not have teachers or class schedules as a result.

Johnson told the board that back in April, teachers were told that by June 30 they would know where to report in the fall. At the end of the school year, teachers had to submit to interviews at the St. Regis Hotel that were to determine which teachers would come back. At that time, teachers were told by the EM administration that if rehired they would know assignments by July 27. That date was pushed back to Aug. 13, Johnson said.

DPS needs 4,000 elementary teachers, Johnson said. Those subjects requiring specialized disciplines are especially vulnerable to the uncertainties, he said.

To get school open on time, Johnson said the district needs a waiver of the new state requirement that teachers must be evaluated.

New state laws require teachers to have annual evaluations, based in part on student performance, and extend to five years the time a teacher is on probation before earning tenure. Tenured teachers can be removed after a series of poor evaluations.

“The new teacher evaluations never took place,” Johnson said. He then urged the board to seek a one-year waiver allowing seniority to be used to determine which teachers get recalled and assigned.

“The actions of the EM and his underlings are indefensible.” Johnson said. “We are going to sue the hell out of them.”

He told the board he delivered a letter to Roberts seeking the waiver for this year only, noting “other districts have obtained the waiver.”

“Less than 48 hours ago,” Lemmons said, ”Robert represented to the Judge (John A. Murphy) that returning the schools to the elected board would cause irreparable harm since school opening was two weeks away and they had everything ready.

“They do not have the schools ready as represented to the judge.”

By a unanimous vote, the board members voted to seek the one-year waiver, allowing seniority to determine teacher assignments.

In other actions, the board voted unanimously to sue the state of Michigan under the Headlee Amendment. The board resolution noted the $226,000 debt created by state in the first takeover, 1999-2005, and dumped into the lap of the elected board in January 2006 was an unfunded mandate, and as such was illegal.

Lemmons informed the board that a millage renewal would be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. He urged approval of the measure since the tax is on businesses and corporations, not homeowners.

Board member Wanda Redmond questioned whether the millage will benefit the EAA. The EAA is the state district for failing schools that is using DPS facilities and is only for Detroit students. Lemmons responded that no one has been privy to the leases Roberts worked out with the EAA.

The board also voted unanimously to order Steve Wasko, chief communications officer and assistant superintendent for community relations for Detroit Public Schools, to “cease and desist representing this body.”

Wasko was in the community and on the air promoting the EAA, Lemmons said. The EAA is in competition with DPS and Wasko is in a conflict of interest.

The board also voted unanimously:

– To terminate the contract with the Parent Network.

– To retain “complete academic control” over the self-governing schools.

– To change the enrollment status of Finney High — named by Roberts the East English Village Academy — to open since there was no other high school left in the district on the east side. Roberts had designated it an application school.

– To request all expenditures relative to academics between DPS and the EAA.

Contact T. Kelly at tkelly@michigancitizen.com

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