Kelly Smith, Russ Bellant, Helen Moore react to Robert Bobb's testimony Feb. 9

By Diane Bukowski

LANSING—During a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Local, Intergovernmental and Regional Affairs Committee Feb. 9, state senators from the Republican side laid the plans for H.B. 4214 as described above. Their discussion is moot at this point, because it is reflected in the 44 page bill itself as detailed above.

But Helen Moore of Keep the Vote No Takeover, Russ Bellant, and former DPS teacher Kelly Smith traveled to Lansing that day to be heard when Robert Bobb spoke at a committee meeting that morning.

They were not allowed to comment then, but Bellant and Moore were finally heard during the Senate joint meeting, and Smith spoke with the VOD separately.

Helen Moore testifies at Lansing committee meeting

 “I would have thought that Robert Bobb wrote the law you are planning, because everything that has been said about broadening the Emergency Financial Managers’ powers today, is what he has said,” Moore stated.

“Bobb took the entire system [including academics] into his hands even though the law does not allow it. It has been disastrous for Detroit. The children have been led astray by the emergency financial manager. He believes he is God. We are still in court now because of his takeover of academics.”

Moore said Bobb has spent $50 million of Title I funds, meant for special education and other student services, on hiring consultants. She noted that some schools still don’t have books, while many high schools have as many as 52 students in a class. She testified that Bobb’s salary is being supplemented by the Eli Broad Foundation and other privation organizations to carry out their mandates of closing public schools and opening charter schools.

“Bobb cannot close as many schools as he has and still operate the district,” Moore said. “Are you ready for cross-district bussing, because the state constitution guarantees free public education for every child. The state’s plans as carried out by Bobb and prior to him Kenneth Burnley and other state appointees have not worked and will never work.”

Barbara Byrd Bennett (l) and Robert Bobb (r) photo DPS website

Russ Bellant said, “DPS is a case model of absolute power and lack of legal rights. My son graduated from DPS and I have attended every school board meeting for the last five years. When Robert Bobb came in, he placed gag orders on DPS employees. He has not responded to 32 Freedom of Information Act requests I have submitted. He has given no public reports on contracts and spending that he has sole authority over, even though the current EFM law requires him to do so. He has hired as many as 10 additional Assistant Superintendents and other high-level staff, at inflated pay rates, and is giving bonuses of $50,000 to favored individuals.”

Bellant added that Bobb’s tenure as city manager in Washington, D.C. was marred by five separate audits condemning his hiring and contracting practices. A 2005 city audit denounced Bobb and former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams for their no-bid hiring of friends and associates on a stadium project. The Washington Post castigated them for “failure to follow city procurement law.”

Bellant, who has done clandestine research on the district’s financial practices, said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Bobb’s Chief Academic and Accountability Officer, is required be contract to work only two days a week for her $200,000 salary. He said she brought in a team of her friends from the Cleveland school district (where her husband still lives) at high-paying salaries and has had an otherwise checkered past (ed: reflected in the following commentary from Cool Cleveland):

“Barbara Byrd Bennett: Paid for by Corporate Club

The real problem with the high spending from a special fund by Cleveland CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett wasn’t totally about what she extravagantly spent. More important was where she got the dough. Although distasteful, the fancy dinners and trips to London and Hawaii were peanuts in comparison with the cost incurred by Cleveland schoolchildren by Byrd Bennett’s co-opting by Cleveland’s Corporate Club. She’s being pampered (fed money to entertain herself and others) by the Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation and Cleveland Tomorrow (so discredited that it recently changed its name to Greater Cleveland Partnership). They give her dough to do this fancy stuff so that it wouldn’t come from public funds, thus likely not be revealed in a school system now run essentially as a private club for its hierarchy, including its mayoral-named school board.


Byrd Bennett, the $300,000 wonder, complains she wasn’t cavorting on the taxpayers’ dime. Actually, worse – the money she’s taking came from those who siphon off gobs of taxpayer’s money – particularly from Cleveland schools – every chance they get to pocket it. Tax abatements, exemptions and reductions on property taxes are their game. The spending became public because of statements in a document of State Auditor Betty Montgomery. Pumped up TV news outlets had their own orgy with the revelations that startled Byrd Bennett, not accustomed to being treated as a mere mortal. What does this funding by private sources mean? It means that she becomes indebted to their leaders. Who are their leaders? The people who run the town and the people hired to do their bidding. This control of the public agenda by these experts in manipulation and subtle propaganda is old stuff, though. Walter Lippmann, in one of his treatise on public decision making, divided decision making into two segments: the “responsible men” – the Corporates – who make the decisions – and the “bewildered herd” – the rest of us who have to live with the verdicts of our betters.


So, when you think of the 600 or so teachers and 300 others ready to be laid off, when you think of the school children who won’t have proper text books, and when you think of the kids who won’t have sports and extra curricular activities, think Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation and Cleveland Tomorrow. Why? Because the schools should have asked for a levy last year. Why didn’t they? Because the people who run the town, i.e., the people of the institutions mentioned above, intent upon getting Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to buy them a new Convention Center.”

by Cool Cleveland contributor Roldo Bartimole


Thompson, Cobb and Bazilio were Bobb's largest campaign contributors in Washington, D.C.

Bellant also  reported that Bobb hired his former deputy campaign manager from Washington, D.C. to be in charge of DPS contracts and grants, and awarded a $672,000 contract to Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, his largest campaign contributor in Washington.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Bellant said. “You are getting the waste, fraud and abuse you can predictably expect from Robert Bobb. There should be financial and other penalties for Emergency Financial Managers who abuse those positions.”

Bellant noted that out of the last 12 years, the district has been governed by an elected school board for only three years, and inherited a $212 million deficit from the first state takeover. It has lost 11,000 students per year.

State Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit), said he had submitted four separate pieces of legislation over the previous two weeks that would provide transparency for EFM’s and school districts, and oversight and accountability to the people, but none of them has been accorded a committee hearing. He noted there is already a state board that is supposed to oversee the actions of Emergency Financial Managers, but that the board has done little to check the actions of Bobb or other EFM’s.

Famed Detroit-born pianist Alma Smith

Detroit piano legend Harold McKinney

Kelly Smith told the VOD she had come to testify about the decimation of arts and music programs at DPS during Bobb’s tenure. She formerly taught music at DPS and currently tunes pianos for them as a vendor.

“Fifty years ago DPS had the best music and arts programs in the country,” Smith said. “When you take away music and art, you take away from academics. There are three new pianos in every new school building, but they are sitting idle and are not being tuned. The Music Department of DPS has been replaced by one person who had to go to a foundation to pay two piano tuners.”

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