I Just Don’t Get It

According to the Detroit News, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager on Wednesday said he plans to send layoff notices to 600 teachers and close 22 other schools in the fall because of plummeting enrollment and a mounting deficit.

Robert Bobb, the manager, also announced plans to plow more than $200 million into existing buildings by enhancing security and making structural and other improvements.

Bobb said the closings and layoffs are necessary to stave off a $306 million deficit, which will force the transfer of 7,500 students.

The 600 teachers who receive layoff notices — make up about 11.3 percent of the total.

Bobb said he is notifying the community and working with city planners to ensure the shuttered schools won’t add blight to neighborhoods already impacted by dozens of shuttered Detroit schools dotting the landscape.

Bobb plans to spend $25 million to enhance security at several schools, by replacing doors, adding security cameras and creating a new video monitoring system for the district’s Department of Public Safety.

Parents have been crying out for enhanced security, and the school system has been plagued by violent intruders. Just last week, a school social worker tackled a boy who allegedly entered a school with a sawed-off shotgun. At Central High School earlier this school year, several intruders engaged in a gun fight in the school halls. Officials have long said securing aging structures with dozens of doors is nearly impossible.

Bobb is asking the state to use federal stimulus funding for the majority of the building projects, which include other infrastructure improvements like lighting, roofs and new boilers.

Another $20 million from a 1994 bond issue will be used to repair and renovate schools that will be receiving new students, with an additional $6 million from allocated, unspent funds to improve several schools where students transferred as part of the last closure plan where 33 schools were shuttered.

Bobb also will review which shuttered buildings — including 56 already vacant structures — would be targeted for demolition, redevelopment or sale to charter schools. He acknowledged that closings must be strategic to avoid a greater loss of students. The district, which has about 96,000 students, has been losing about 10,000 students a year most years since 2001. But the community in the past has staged protests and railed against closures, which some say are contributing to the dismantling of the school system.

Former superintendent Connie Calloway this school year opted not to close schools after the district found the 33 school closings the previous year cost the system millions of dollars. An internal report compiled by a committee of academic and non-academic “stakeholders” and authored by Calloway said the district lost $11.3 million because students left the district following the closures.

“It’s sad. That school is a neighborhood school, so it’s very convenient for a lot of kids to walk back and forth,” she said. “Closing the schools where people are working and the community is helping out — that’s not the solution.”

There are several things that I do not get. One, if there is a need to close buildings, which obviously there are, why haven’t the buildings closed since 1994, been torn down? Why not create smaller class sizes in a city, which according to Education Week, has a 24 percent graduation rate? Wouldn’t a process to improve schools stop people from fleeing the city? How would closing schools and having students walk longer distances encourage parents to stay?

I just don’t get it.