The following is an open letter from Detroit City Council member Kwame Kenyatta:
Why I Oppose Mayoral Control of Detroit Public Schools
DETROIT, MI - First, let me be clear. I know that our children need help. The educational system in this city, state and nation has failed our children. Students in America as a whole perform in the bottom percentile on an international level. The American educational system is broke. In fact, for children of color and poor children, the system has always been broke. Nevertheless, the answer to fixing a broke system is not putting it under the control of another broke system.
The city of Detroit is a fractured system. We have had three mayors, three police chiefs and five new city council members within a two-year period. The former mayor is in jail and under federal indictments. The former vice-president of city council is on her way to jail and the federal grand jury is still taking testimony. The police department is under a federal consent decree, the water department is under a federal monitor and the housing department is under federal control. The reality is the city is broken financially, politically and morally.
There is a school of thought, which states that in order for someone to become an example for others, they must themselves be presented as an example of that which others seek. Mayor Dave Bing has been the Mayor of the City of Detroit for just over one year, if one includes last year’s special election. During his brief tenure, he has hired and fired members of his “Dream Team,” as well as encouraged some to resign. He is still attempting to appoint a winning crew for a tilting ship that is Detroit with no solid proof of possessing a winning formula.
Yet, despite these glaring incompletes, inconsistencies and deficiencies, it is Bing once again that is being hailed as the prescient savior who must immediately rescue the 87,000 student school system that is the Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Without an iota of evidence that mayoral control of any fashion is the antidote for DPS, Bing is touted by everyone from the head of the Detroit NAACP’s Rev. Wendell Anthony to Peter Karmanos to the Skillman Foundation to Governor Granholm to the Detroit Free Press. That small list therein encompasses support from all five of the key segments for enacting a policy or initiative in Detroit. Those segments include:
An entire curriculum could be easily designed with a focus on the history of takeovers as it regards DPS. References to the state takeover of DPS in 1999 would be included, which not coincidentally the State Legislature approved shortly after Detroit voters approved $1.5 billion in bonds for DPS. In that case, Detroit contractors were shut out when the state installed an appointed board and superintendent for former Mayor Archer to oversee. Mayor Archer promptly re-appropriated the monies to majority out-of-towners via a multitude of contracts.
Next, the vote in 2004 of Proposal E, which attempted to install former Mayor Kilpatrick as a replacement to the elected school board, failed by large margins at the polls when Detroiters spoke loudly with 194,000 votes against mayoral control. That’s right. Although it is never mentioned by any of the representatives, of the five key segments, a vote on this issue was already taken. Detroiters were given the opportunity to vote. They voted no.
Now a decennial is occurring whereby the 10th anniversary of the last takeover was celebrated with a new push for approval of $500 million in bonds for DPS in 2009. The measure passed and was shortly followed by the current campaign to install mayoral control beginning with Mayor Bing over DPS.
Out-of-town contractors are once again salivating over the thought of acquiring contracts that will no doubt once again minimize Detroit participation. Charter school operators are chomping at the bit to open the privatization floodgates in a manner that completely marginalizes Detroiters by casting their input to the sidelines and rendering them incapable of vocalizing their concerns at open meetings.
The loudest sound that may be heard though is the rumbling wave of financial and media support for a mayor whose plan for DPS thus far has been articulated in the same manner that a Detroiter who rides the bus would respond, if presented with a car that they could not afford, sure I’ll be responsible for it, if you give it to me.
Though they may be maligned, ignored and disparaged for sitting amongst a few bad apples that have provided the perfect image of a board that is rotten to the core, the Board of Education, spearheaded by Tyrone Winfrey and Anthony Adams, at the very least have presented an actual academic plan for the reform of DPS.
Bing’s plan consists of a national search for a superintendent to head up what would ostensibly become his Department of Education. But the huge silence amongst the clamor surrounds one large unanswered question…How is that plan any different from the current way of selecting a superintendent minus mandated participation from the Board and the community at-large?
The definition of an experiment is to try out a new procedure, idea or activity. How does elevating the selection of the superintendent, contractors, charter school operators etc., to an inaccessible ivory tower improve the education of Detroit children besides endorsing the premise that Detroiters cannot be trusted to elect a school board to govern themselves as every single other Michigan city does?
When Mayors Archer and Kilpatrick were given authority to appoint superintendents vis-à-vis the state takeover of DPS in 1999, the budget went from an approximately $90 million surplus to a ballooning deficit. DPS students’ scores on national tests plummeted. When Governor Granholm, almost two years ago, appointed Robert Bobb Emergency Financial Manager, DPS had a deficit left over from former Governor Engler’s tenure. Yet, the deficit has not decreased, but instead continued to swell under Bobb’s reign.
Mayoral control of DPS is an experiment that has already been conducted and failed. Fortunately, there was an expiration date. If State legislators are allowed to use an advisory ballot question, as political cover, to install mayoral control, there will be no expiration date for frustrated Detroit voters when the fairy dust that is being sprinkled now wears off. They will awake to being relegated to hearing the low repetitive thud of their own beating on a locked door.
Doing things the same way and expecting a different result is often cited as the definition of insanity. The business and philanthropic community, who are providing the necessary financial backing to conjure a pressure cooker that they then contend can only be mitigated by recycling Proposal E and voting on mayoral control of DPS again, are most certainly not insane. Therefore, it can only be concluded that the real purpose of their campaign to gently and patronizingly convince exhausted and apathetic Detroit voters that Bing is the DPS messiah is the failure of DPS in its current form.
If mayoral control is installed then the dismantlement of DPS and its replacement with a system that is a skeleton of its former self, completely controlled by deep pocket special interests will undoubtedly be the result.