More battles to come as DPS initiates apartheid-style ID checks, adds high-paid top staff, plans split district and massive school closures
Includes photos from Martin Luther King Day Legacy March at MLK High School, Jan. 17, 2011
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT—Detroit Public Schools (DPS) czar Robert Bobb rescinded the lay-offs of 88 bus attendants for special needs children Jan. 13, after a busload of parents and attendants told the State Board of Education he was violating federal mandates, and a parent filed suit in federal court, on behalf the district’s 15,000 students with disabilities.
But workers and parents alike said more battles are coming, and that they want Bobb removed immediately as Emergency Financial Manager for the district.
“I’m grateful that God softened Bobb’s heart to call us back to work Jan. 18,” said attendant Uolanda Payne. “I’m glad I can keep my benefits for my son. They are really needed. Bobb was about to put the students in jeopardy. However, they are still in jeopardy because he is closing schools and crowding older students in with younger ones.”
Bobb’s press representative Jennifer Mrozowski said in a statement that DPS “will not proceed with any layoffs of bus attendants at this time to ensure that the district meets its obligation to safely transport all students, special education and general education.”
Payne traveled on the bus to Lansing Jan. 11, from outside a school bus terminal on Conant on Detroit’s east side. The trip was organized by the Coalition to Restore Hope to DPS, We the People of Detroit, and other concerned individuals who filled 53 seats on the bus.
“I’ve spent 10 years as a bus attendant, a very hard job especially in the freezing cold,” Payne said. “I get up at 4 a.m. to get there. There is no heat or air conditioning on half our buses. The bus drivers can’t watch children in wheelchairs and kids with autism running up and down the aisle hitting little Billy with a stick. Meanwhile, what is Bobb doing buying a $5,000 desk?”
Advocates demand Bobb’s immediate removal
Helen Moore, leader of Keep the Vote No Takeover, said, “We’re here to take care of our babies, to make sure that Bobb does no more harm than he already has. We are demanding his immediate removal as Emergency Financial Manager. The 13th and 14th Democratic Congressional Districts and the Detroit Federation of Teachers have all passed resolutions asking the state to oust him.”
Paula Johnson, parent of special needs student Joshua Johnson, a White Elementary fifth-grade student, sued in federal court Jan. 13. Her attorney Robert Fetter of Miller Cohen PLLC filed a request for an injunction against the lay-offs, on behalf of Joshua and all other special needs students. It said lay-offs would cause “irreparable harm.”
“Federal law mandates these services as a condition of receiving federal funds,” the suit says. “The District is reducing a mandated service to children with disabilities and special needs, so that it can use the funds provided for this service elsewhere within the District.”
It says Joshua Johnson suffers from autism and verifies Payne’s description of the problems such children face.
“His condition causes him to have problems in confined locations, eye contact, touching, and different odors or sounds,” the suit explains. “Over-exposure to sensory stimuli causes those with autism to engage in disruptive behavior, tantrums, and even violence against themselves or others. He also has a tendency to run if he suffers from a tantrum.” Read the entire lawsuit at Bus lawsuit
During the State Board of Education meeting, State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan and board members were visibly stunned by the testimony presented by Detroiters, and clearly worried that the district and state might face federal action if Bobb continued on his course.
Parent Aurora Harris, whose child is also autistic, is a member of the DPS Special Education Wayne-RESA Parent Advisory Committee and a representative of Concerned Parents of Special Ed Students in DPS. She demanded a federal investigation of the district’s use of special needs funds and treatment of students with disabilities.
IEP’s are “Individual Education Plans” for children with special needs, while IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Harris said Bobb laid off the attendants using the excuse that not all parents had asked for bus attendants in their IEP’s.
“We feel that this is a manipulation of the IEP, whereby many of us for up to 20 years have never been asked or told to write that we need a bus attendant for transportation,” Harris said. “No notification was given to parents. Even my principal did not know about it. Robert Bobb wants to save $2 million by placing our children in harm’s way.”
Parent Frances Williams testified that the last time she received her child’s IEP, the page where the parent is supposed to sign had been removed.
“The district thinks it can do things without parent’s involvement, that we don’t have any rights,” Williams said.
Harris said Bobb has refused to give an accounting of special ed funds, who is controlling them, and how parents are supposed to access them. Aside from the bus attendant lay-offs, she said there are further IDEA violations.
Other violations include lack of bi-lingual staff, and those trained to deal with blind and hearing-impaired
“There are no bilingual translators at the Welcome Center, in Administration, in schools for enrollment, or at the bus terminals to service non-English speaking students or parents when emergencies arise,” Harris told the Board. “We are requesting a bi-lingual emergency hotline and that bi-lingual staff and resource persons be reinstated. There is no one to service the blind and hearing impaired. Resources like Occupational Therapy, PT and speech have been eliminated.”
She demanded that Flanagan and the State Board investigate the situation, but also demanded federal intervention.
“We would like a full investigation by the Department of of all persons, consultants, and companies receiving and spending federal funds for Special Education and Title 1,” Harris told the Board. “We request a full audit, and full public report of all Federal funds coming to the District, how the funds were spent, the names of the consultants and companies that were paid.”
Justice, The IRS, and the FBI
Harris also decried conditions in special ed schools, saying some are rat-infested, parents are not given copies of curricula for the students, and Bobb has canceled liability insurance for adult spec ed students.
Russ Bellant told the Board that Bobb has refused all requests for financial disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act, and ordered DPS employees not to reveal information.
Bobb has appointed more top staff, no Superintendent
But Bellant said he has discovered that Bobb has appointed multiple new Assistant Superintendents in addition to the three indicated on the district website as of July 1, 2010. That website indicates Assistant Superintendents make up to $175,000 a year. Bellant said most of the new appointees are from the Cleveland school district, where Barbara Byrd-Bennett, DPS’ current Chief Academic and Accountability Officer, was previously Superintendent.
According to documentation obtained by the Voice of Detroit, the assistant superintendents are Derrick Coleman, Frank Ivezej, Annette Knox, Rebecca Luna, Leoleo Maberrasi, Shirley Mobley-Woods, and Wilma Taylor-Coslen. Two executive directors are Jeron Campbell and Jack Elsey. James Ray is listed as Superintendent of School Design. Erin Troy is Chief of Staff for Operations, Sherry Ulery is Chief of Teaching and Learning, and Tracy Martin is Chief of Staff for Academics.
Ray, Troy, Ulery and Martin are at the top of the food chain, reporting directly to Byrd-Bennett, while the others listed report to them. Their salaries are unknown.
There is currently no Superintendent for the district, since Bobb removed Teresa Gueyser, claiming the board had no right to appoint her. Community advocates are supporting Dr. Gloria House to take the post. She is currently a Professor of English at the University of Michigan Dearborn, spent 27 years teaching at Wayne State University, and has a long history of activism in the community.
However, Board President Anthony Adams earlier appointed a Leadership Committee for his transition team, which is charged with the superintendent search. It is headed by Bill Brooks, chair of the first state reform school board during former DPS CEO Kenneth Burnley’s tenure. During that time, thousands of DPS workers lost their jobs, and dozens of schools were closed, while lucrative private contracts to Compuware, Aramark, and others were handed out like candy.
Whether Brooks and Anthony will support a candidate of House’s stature and progressive history is questionable. They have indicated they are conducting a nationwide search.
Apartheid ID checks for parents at school doors
Parents also told the Board that they are now required to swipe their driver’s licenses or state ID’s through machines at Martin Luther King, Jr. and Northwestern High Schools, in a pilot program meant to be instituted throughout the district.
In a Jan. 12 release, the District confirmed the allegations.
“Visitors to Detroit Public Schools high schools, career technical schools and the district’s new DPS Police Department Command Center will soon be put through on-the-spot background checks as part of a new security clearance system aimed at making campuses safer for students and staff,” said the release.
“The system, which is being rolled out gradually to 33 sites, will instantly scan visitors’ driver licenses and state ID cards and cross-check the information with sex-offender registries throughout the United States and Canada. School security personnel can also conduct checks using visitors’ names and date of birth. It will eventually be set up at every DPS school.”
Moore said one parent camped outside Martin Luther King, Jr. High School all day in protest, while she was attempting to see her child inside.
“I called [Board President Anthony] Adams’ and Bobb’s offices, and I was told this was not a violation of the parents’ right to privacy,” Moore said angrily. “We believe they are trying to keep the parents out, especially the parents that have raised complaints.”
The district alleged in its release that only convicted sex offenders are being targeted.
“The system will not check additional criminal databases, so it will not indicate whether individuals have outstanding warrants or other legal issues,” the release said.
But parents said they do not trust the district not to use the ID checks for other purposes. There is already a sex offender registry on the Michigan Department of Corrections website if DPS administrators want to screen school visitors by name.
Split district would mean more funding for charter schools, 2nd class education for other students
Bellant also asked why details of a split district plan Bobb said he has submitted to the state have not been published on the district’s website or made available to the public.
“Bobb said he submitted it today,” Bellant said. “My son graduated from DPS two years ago. The last governor collaborated with policies that were very destructive for our schools. I am hoping that our new leadership is not taking this plan from Bobb at face value. The district lost 22,000 students during his term, higher even then the number of students who left when [state appointed CEO Kenneth] Burnley was in office.”
Bobb announced Jan. 5 that he would propose three options to the new state government for DPS financial re-structuring.
Option one would involve a “split district,” which would place the entire burden of the district’s alleged $327 million deficit on a 9,000 student section of DPS. Those students would populate an “old district.” State revenue from tobacco settlement funds would then be used to wipe out the “old district’s” debt.
In exchange, the district would enact draconian “reforms” based on the federal Race to the Top initiative, including eliminating teacher seniority rights. Legislation to mandate those reforms for the state did not pass last year after the U.S. Department of Education did not choose Michigan as a benefactor of Race to the Top funding.
Option two involves massive school closures and lay-offs of DPS staff, along with regionalization of DPS services involving the city, county, and Wayne RESA.
Option three would take post-Katrina New Orleans as a model for DPS schools. There, a large number of the city’s Black and poor population has not been allowed to return. Immediately after Katrina, the state of Louisiana took over the school district. Seventy percent of New Orleans children now attend charter schools.
Joe Rose, Communications Director for the United Teachers of New Orleans, said after the state takeover, “Every teacher in New Orleans was fired. There were 7,500 school employees, everybody from cafeteria workers, truck drivers and custodians to teachers, and there were about 4,000 teachers. Solid middle class employees, career professionals who had dedicated their careers to helping try to educate the children in one of the neediest cities in the country, a city with one of the highest poverty rates, as everybody saw in the days immediately following Katrina.”
Go to http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=719 for full story on destruction of public services including housing, education and hospitals after Katrina.
Whether the district actually has a $327 million deficit is questionable. Figures from the DPS adopted budget for 2010-11 show that it has a $0 deficit for that school year, although it has a negative fund balance of $332,102,661. (See chart below showing DPS figures and notes questioning actual debt amounts, increases in expenditures for contractual services, etc.)
State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan said at the Jan. 11 meeting that the State Board of Education has limited authority to investigate the parents’ allegations, except for those dealing with IEP (Individual Education Plan) issues, and that it is “the governor’s call on whether to renew Bobb’s contract.” Bobb has said he would like to remain in office at least until the end of this school year.