BOBB Part Four

PART FOUR: Bobb’s Academic Failure

Bills HB 4214 and SB 153 propose to give school EFMs power over academics. DPS is the only school District that has had an EFM, one who has also exercised academic power.

Bobb hired Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett to lead the academic work at DPS, even though the  law did not give him the power to do so. Bobb only assumed the posture of controlling academics because of the direction given to him by former Governor Jennifer Granholm, according to no less an observer than State Superintendent of Instruction Michael Flanagan. A member of Bobb’s staff also told this writer that Bobb’s actions were closelv coordinated with the Governor’s staff.

At a public forum on June 14, 2010, Bobb was asked how it was that all of the top academic

positions and functions at DPS were staffed by friends and a family member of Barbara Byrd-Bennett. He declined to answer. But staff, former staff and parents have watched and drawn their opinion of this group’s impact on academics.

One former senior administrator who requested anonymity to avoid problems with a current employer nevertheless noted that Bobb “failed to get experts. Instead he got people who are connected to each other that have failed records elsewhere and could not getjobs until Bobb hired them. They did not have a clue as to how to even write a graduation plan.”

When Bobb closed schools in the spring of 2010 and teachers took state incentives to retire, DPS knew that it had to create a staffing plan to ensure that students had qualified teachers in the Fall. Bobb was advised by DPS veterans to begin hiring teachers in May due to the shortage at DPS. Bobb began the hiring process in the last week of August, a week before classes were to begin.

When the first day of classes began, students were short hundreds of teachers. Further, Bobb had inexplicably pulled certified special education teachers experienced in dealing with special needs students out of their classrooms and put them in general education classes, while putting general education teachers in special needs classrooms. In general, there was chaos in the schools due to Bobb’s failed approach to staffing.

Students were sitting in classrooms with engineers, custodians and clerical staff baby-sitting them. Students were told that they would get passing grades because their plight was not of their own making, which gives the wrong message about grades as gifts. The education expected by parents and students was not occurring.

On November 6, 2010, two months into the school year, Bobb told a public meeting that he was still short 115 teachers. Thousands of students were not receiving their full education.

Bobb’s staff have been pulling teachers from their classrooms and merging students with other classes’ creating overcrowding. During February, students have marched in protest against their loss of teachers at their school sites. At least one class of students from the Communications and Media Arts High School, one of the top schools in Detroit, protested at DPS administration offices over the lack of teaching staff. About 95% of CMA graduates go on to college and some students feel that their admissions chances are being harmed byBobb’s practices.

When Bobb expanded the Assistant Superintendent ranks from three under the old Board to ten, he placed people with few qualifications into positions. Two were associated with the Broad Foundation that in turn paid Bobb $99,000 over two years for furthering their aims.

One of thern, Jack Elsey,taught for two years in the South Bronx but has no other classroom or school building leadership experience. The second Broad person is JeronCampbell, whose background is in manufacturing and has no classroom of school building experience. Both of them supervise seasoned school principals.

A third Assistant Superintendent is Annette Knox, who had a troubled history at Camden Schools and comes to the job as a friend of Byrd-Bennett, as does Laura Materassi. Both deputy leaders of academics under Byrd-Bennett, Sherry Ulery and Tracy Martin’ are friends of the chief from Cleveland, while another Assistant Superintendent, James Ray, retired from Flint Schools and now has a small side consultancy with the Cleveland schools.

Bobb has also placed Cedric Thompson, son of TCBA principal Jeffrey Thompson, Bobb’s largest campaign donor, as head of all the career technical high schools. He does not have the experience or certifications for the job.

Until she recently separated from the DPS, Erin Troy was chief of staff to Byrd Bennett. She was an attorney in Washington, D.C. with no academic background prior to her placement. Her route to the consultancy was through her fiance (now spouse), Kevin Clinton, Bobb’s former deputy carnpaign manager in D.C. and grant program manager until he moved into the executive office,.

Together Byrd-Bennett, Ulery, Martin and Ray occupy the top four positions in DPS academics, positions filled based on relationships rather than a merit-based selection process, a result that mirrors Bobb’s practices on the finance side of DPS.

Integrity and Accountability Failures

Ghost Employees

Wall Street Journal, Augtut 13, 2009: “A probe launched by Mr. Bobb uncovered paychecks  going to 257 “ghost” employees who have yet to be accounted for.,’

Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Michael van Beek: “The District has alreadv

discovered more than 250 “ghost” employees”

Mlive headline, June 24, 2009: “Audit: More than 250 ghost workers on payroll of Detroit

Public Schools.”

Michigan Public Radio, May 17, 2010: “Ghost employees on payrolls, employees stealing cash,” referring to DPS

Eli Broad on a Huffington Post commentary, November 29, 2010: “Detroit Public Schools had been distributing paychecks to hundreds of people who were deceased. Those paycheclcs were being cashed.”

DPS Auditor General, Annual Report, June 20, 2010, pp. 6-7: “The District had no “Ghost

Employees” on its payroll.”

Bobb’s signal accomplishment in the public’s mind was his perceived fight against “waste, fraud and abuse” at DPS. And the biggest story was the “ghost employee” image. It raised Bobb’s profile nationally and his political stock locally. It helped him fashion an image that he could be trusted with a new $500.5 million construction bond he was seeking voter support for.

In an early briefing on issues at DPS, Bobb was told of two incompatible employee databases

and that data from one was being transferred to the other. According to a senior DPS official in the discussion Bobb saw this as evidence of ghost employees and would not, or did not want to be dissuaded.

He held a press conference to announce a probe into ghost employees, even though no concrete evidence existed of such. It went, as they say, viral. Soon he was telling the story everywhere. He held a second press conferenco, where he put the number of ghost employee suspects at 257.In some accounts the allegation became fact. Bobb never corrected that. The false tale was found in newspapers in Livingston county, Port Huron and metro Detroit.

Bobb never admitted he started a furor over nothing even though he besmirched the image of the DPS workforce in the process. For someone contemplating the outsourcing of many DPS jobs, breaking any bond between the employees and the public was not a bad thing.He continues to reference the ghost employee investigation-into-nothing as his calling card.

Greedy Engineers

In May 2009 at a community event at Wayne State University Bobb had a large printed sign on stage stating that 122 DPS building engineers made over $100,000 a year through “overtime abuse” and a couple dozen made $150,000 a year. Their Union protested that claim and asked for proof. A Union Steward filed a Freedom of Information request asking for a list of names of anyone making the amount that Bobb asserted. He never received a reply. And Labor Relations never offered proof either. But Bobb continues to maintain this unsupported assertion on the DPS website even after it was clear that he could not back it up.

2009 Enrollment Data

The day that Bobb posted enrollment data for 23 schools he was contemplating closing in the Spring of 2009, this writer sent him an email that said that the student enrollment numbers for every school were l0 to l5 percent lower than actual enrollment. The lower numbers made the schools appear underutilized compared to their capacity, which was also overstated in some cases. Hence these numbers helped justify school closings. Bobb professed concern, a conference call was arranged, the errors acknowledged privately, but the website data remained posted and unchanged and was subsequently used in news reports that misled the public.

Lack of Public Information

When Robert Bobb took control of the District, one of the early warning signs of trouble was

his practice of rewriting employmentcontracts that placed gag order conditions on ernployees of the District. They required non-union employees to obtain Bobb’s permission to speak publicly about DPS matters.

On March 30, 2010, this writer submitted 32 Freedom of Information requests for financial information, contracts and personnel disclosure forms. Most have been ignored by Bobb, or in some cases the responses have been untruthful.

On the matter of the disclosure forms, for instance, each DPS employee and each consultant was to report any other gainful employment or relationships that they may have so as to avoid conflicts of interest. Bobb released his, but it had no other employment at all, even though when he speaks in certain forums he promotes the fact the he is the owner, President and CEO of Lapa Group, LLC. He did this at EMU in early 2010, in San Diego and at WMU earlier this month. In fact he said last year that his EFM job helps promote Lapa Development company.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett went even further, stating that no such form for her was completed, although a well placed staff person said that she and her staff completed conflict of interest forms. At the time it was widely believed that Byrd Bennett was working for other employers, but she has declined to be forthcoming on the matter.

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One Response to BOBB Part Four

  1. Russ,

    Outstanding !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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