Feds in Detroit for special Council committee meeting
By Diane Bukowski
September 1, 2012
DETROIT – Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson called an extraordinary meeting of the City Council Quality of Life Task Force Committee Aug. 30. Special guests were Peter Cunningham, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, Stephen Robinson, Special Consultant to the White House, and Tracey Jordan, Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs.
Elder Helen Moore, leader of the Keep the Vote No Takeover Coalition, worked with a national network of public education advocates to bring the meeting together. Moore said the network had met with the guests in Washington, D.C. and plans to return there this month.
During the committee session, researchers, educators, Detroit Board of Education members, parents, and community advocates offered passionate, often blistering descriptions of the state of education in Detroit.
“Not too long ago, a national group got in touch with us from Chicago after they heard about the student walk-outs at Frederick Douglass Academy and Western and Southwestern High Schools protesting the closures of their schools,” Moore said.
“Twenty different states have joined in,” she continued. “Our assessment after a number of meetings has been that districts with Black and Brown children are being treated the same way nationally. They are being discriminated against. Here in Detroit, our children’s resources are being stolen by charter schools, the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), and site-based management.”
Dr. John Telford, newly appointed as interim superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools by the school board, chimed in.
“It is appalling, egregious, illegal and unconstitutional that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the state legislature, and the state Supreme Court have colluded to take away our schools, to take away our city.”
Dr. Thomas Pedroni, Associate Professor of Curriculum Studies at Wayne State University, presented a history of the assault on public education in Detroit (published in full in post below this story).
“Mr. Cunningham, I have news for the coalition that is destroying our schools,” Pedroni told the federal officials. “You, Excellent Schools Detroit, Michigan Future Schools, EAA, you are the status quo. You defend what has been shown to not work; you defend what fails our kids. You see, the cities in America are talking to each other now. It may be Excellent Schools Detroit here but it’s the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago. We’re talking to each other through our coalition. . . and we’re telling you we don’t want your failed blueprint. . . .we are not going to let you do to our schools what you did to them in Chicago and Philadelphia and New Orleans and elsewhere.”
Pedroni said real reform will come from the community.
“It will bring the education reform that sends the test companies packing, the educational management organizations packing, the emergency managers packing,” he said. “And in their place we are making our schools places of joy, places of community. We are using the best of our research—real research, not phony baloney think tank research—to face some real challenges in Detroit, and we need our youth to be smart, creative, communicative—the way they were born—not dull and passive before a computer screen doing time in school before they do time somewhere else.”
Board of Education President Lamar Lemmons III called the situation in Michigan “taxation without representation,” which has led to the “dismantling of our school system for the profit of people not from our community.”
He noted that in 1999, DPS had a $93 million surplus, and test scores in the middle range state-wide.
“After years of two state takeovers, we now have a half-billion dollar deficit,” Lemmons said. “But they have used deficits as an excuse for the takeovers.”
Board of Education member Carol Banks said, “Four of my kids graduated from DPS, and now I have a special needs grandchild going there. Special needs students need smaller classrooms, and special types of teachers, but they are being moved into a new system, into general classrooms and 15 EAA schools, where their needs are not addressed. We do not want another Tuskegee Institute experiment on our children, and we do not want teachers from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California from Teach for America coming here to teach our children.”
Board member Rev. David Murray decried the treatment of special needs children in DPS.
“There is a steady decline, it is disgusting,” Murray reported. “Some of the best teachers in the country, who put their life blood, tears and sweat equity into teaching our developmentally disabled children, are gone. We are setting our children up to be criminalized. The parents right now don’t know where to send their children. A new DPS security agency is barring them from coming to DPS, because when they g0t angry at how they were treated, they fought back and were expelled.”
Board member Tawanna Simpson said she had worked at the Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit as a teacher for 12 years, where she saw the other end of the spectrum.
“They claim they want to turn Detroit around, but they have miseducated our youth, pulled out the jobs, and locked them up,” Simpson reported.
Bill Dickens noted that the architects of the state takeovers under Governors John Engler, Jennifer Granholm and now Rick Snyder have been major white-owned construction companies including Barton-Malow and Walbridge Aldinger, He said their main goal is to profit from the two DPS bond issues, $1.5 billion in 1994 and $500.5 million in 2009.
Walbridge Aldinger’s CEO John Rakolta was a major contributor to Snyder’s campaign and has a daughter-in-law working on the governor’s staff. He also currently sits on the DPS bond oversight committee. He is a co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign finance committee.
“This is nothing but voter suppression,” stormed Minister Malik Shabazz of the New Black Panther Movement. “It is designed to hurt us in the November elections. We demand no lay-offs, no school closings, no forcing teachers into welfare salaries. We had 182,000 students in this district before the takeovers, now we have only 65,000. The rich are getting richer, stealing our schools.”
DPS teacher Shirley Kendrick testified, “Under the 2009 bond proposal, they built brand new schools which are now being handed over to the EAA. Our babies are being put in the old schools with asbestos problems.”
A Pershing High School teacher called the situation “ethnic cleansing.”
“We have 79 students in classrooms half the size of this room [council chambers],” he said angrily. “Many of the kids come to school unfed. When I tried to get them food from the cafeteria, they told me I couldn’t because the district could be sued.”
Teacher Darati Forbes-Mulibwa said, “Everyone is looking at the teachers as objects. We go into our personal pockets to get supplies for the children. I would drive by to their houses when they did not come to school to see what was wrong, and I was told I could not do that. I was told, ‘It’s not like they’re going to grow up and be doctors.’ I said these are my children and was told they are not my children. Those of us who cause a problem are removed from the classroom.”
Verna Mason asked why no one is watching how the state handles federal funding meant for DPS.
School board member Annie Carter, who is in her fourth term, reported that Title I funds were misappropriated by the state during the first state takeover, according to a 2005 report from the Office of the Inspector General. As a result of that, she said the federal government put DPS schools on a priority alert.
“Every year DPS has to give money back to the federal government,” Carter said. “The former DPS CEO borrowed over $200 million which we are still paying back. The state regulates every dollar we get, and right now, we can only draw down 20 percent of state per-pupil aid, the rest must come from our general fund.”
Edith Lee Payne, a litigant in a lawsuit against Public Act 4, said, “Mumford High School, which received money from President Obama’s stimulus fund, was torn down and a new building built costing $50.3 million. Now it has been handed over to another authority (the EAA). Most DPS teachers have been laid off and are being replaced by Teach for America staff at the EAA schools.”
Payne again contended that since Public Act 4 has been suspended pending the November elections, the state constitution says it cannot be replaced by Public Act 72. DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and others across Michigan are continuing to function over the financial affairs of municipalities and districts targeted by PA4.
Ruling on a lawsuit brought by the Board of Education, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John Murphy earlier upheld State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s opinion that PA 72 is now in force. He opined also that all actions taken by Roberts prior to the suspension of PA4 Aug. 8 will remain in effect, including the establishment of the independent EAA, which includes 15 Detroit high schools.
At an earlier school board meeting, Payne, who is a co-litigant in a lawsuit against Public Act 4, noted that MCL 8.4 of the State Constitution says clearly,
“Whenever a statute, or any part thereof shall be repealed by a subsequent statute, such statute, or any part thereof, so repealed, shall not be revived by the repeal of such subsequent repealing statute.”
A laid-off arts teacher confirmed Payne’s allegations regarding the wholesale lay-off of certified DPS teachers. In the wake of Roberts’ abrogation of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) contract last year, teachers are being forced to re-apply for their positions with their school principals regardless of seniority rights.
“The principal sat in my classroom for all of 30 minutes,” the arts teacher said. “Her negative evaluation was incorrect. My kids have had their artwork featured in the Thanksgiving Day parade, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne County Community College, and the American Federation of Teachers national conference in Detroit. I have a master’s degree from Wayne State, and have been certified by the state as a highly qualified and effective teacher.”
Carolyn Brown, an education administrator for 41 years, reported that the Highland Park Public Schools system has been completely charterized on the advice of the state, and warned the same is likely to happen to DPS. She said this happened even though their public schools outperformed charter schools on the MEAP tests.
“During the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to go beyond the state to the federal government,” Brown said. “I am appealing now to the brilliant President Obama. His educational policy is destroying our urban centers. It is not being managed well. I am calling on the President to come talk to us and to discontinue carrying on the policies of the previous Republican administration.”
Sherry Gay Dagnogo, chief of staff to Superintendent Telford, drew a standing ovation after she reported that she had met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ask that he himself attend the council session.
“I met with him on my own dollars, and I was told that some meetings are only for the bigwigs,” Dagnogo said. “Well, the bigwigs are right here in this room. Across the country the rate of incarceration and criminal justice involvement for Blacks is 13-1. Duncan spoke at events for the United Way, the Skillman Foundation, Excellent Schools and others. I am looking in your eyes today. I want to have a true race to the top. I want you to support the people. We are capable of making our own decisions.”
Cunningham commented briefly at the end of the two-hour session.
“It’s pretty clear how you guys feel about what the State of Michigan has done here in Detroit, and about charter schools,” he said. “I note that you don’t agree with all our policies. Your concerns will be shared with President Barack Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan. There are things we can and cannot do. These are mostly state and local issues. We have a lot of information, and will get it back to where it should go. I am shocked and deeply concerned.”