Written by: Stefanie Marshall
Primary Source: Green & Write
In my last blog, I posted a summary of the report put out by The Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s Schoolchildren (CFDS). In order to gain more insights concerning the report, that on the surface appeared to align with the interests of parents and students of Detroit, there are some major concerns that have been expressed by local education activists. I spoke with
Elena Herrada, an elected member of the Detroit Board of Education, Dr. Tom Pedroni, of the Detroit Data and Democracy Project and an Associate Professor at Wayne State University, and Karen Twomey, who also works for the Detroit Data and Democracy Project, is a member of the Ferndale Board of Education and teacher in Bloomfield Hills.
According to Elena Herrada, parts of the report were “disturbing,” and she stated that because Detroit Public Schools has been dismantled, “we don’t even know where our kids are,” (which she noted has proven to be dangerous given one recent case in Detroit). Herrada also expressed that the power of the board has been essentially stripped away. There are parts of the report that Herrada, Pedroni, and Twomey believe were very positive, however, many were not. Pedroni and Twomey, recently posted a report card of their analysis of CFDS’s report. I spent some time talking to them, and they unpacked what was good about the report, and then some red flags.
Bottom-line, the report shared with the public what they wanted to hear. Parents want to know that there will be transportation, enrollment will be more transparent, and that Detroit schools will improve. However there are other key factors that should be considered. Herrada, Pedroni and Twomey all expressed that the promised transparency by CFDS during the 90-day period was missing, which makes the process questionable. According to Twomey, there was, “no democratic process…if there were public meetings they were posted within less than 24 hours. When they talk about having parents involved, you can actually overlap the parents [referenced] are some of the same parents as [when the Excellent Schools Detroit Coalition was formed]. They are not bringing in new stakeholders. I question why is it they were hesitant of being more welcoming of the public.”
What did CFDS do well?
Pedroni and Twomey were pleased that John Rakolta, chief executive of Walbridge and one of the co-chairs of CFDS, explicitly stated that the state is responsible for Detroit Public School’s deficit. Pedroni stated that DPS operated with a surplus in 1999, before the state took over the district. Pedroni and Twomey strongly support this recommendation because, as expressed by Pedroni, “Despite the situation of the economic down-turn, loss of tax-base, and disinvestment…[In the 90s] a complete decline started with the first [state] takeover, which the district has never really come back from.” According to the report, Detroit’s operational deficit is now $170 million and it has about $2.1 billion in accumulated debt. This essentially results in fewer dollars being spent on classroom instruction.
Pedroni and Twomey expressed that there has been much blame placed on the elected school board for Detroit Public School’s debt, but that it is unwarranted. As stated by Herrada “[The district] was taken over for being broke. We were broke because of the contracts that were made by the state appointed board, the elected board couldn’t break [the contracts].”
In my next blog, I will discuss factors of the report that Pedroni and Twomey believe should be reconsidered and how they believe the recommendations could have promoted both financial efficiency and how CFDS could have tap into pre-existing human capital within Detroit’s network –in lieu of the recommended Detroit Education Coalition (DEC). Also, I will present some of the history that they shared behind coalition formation concerning Detroit schools, and further considerations.
Contact Stefanie: Marsh413@msu.edu