Early to be Detroit Schools’ 4th Emergency Manager

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The next leader of Detroit Public Schools will be Flint’s emergency manager Darnell Early – a decision which has sparked criticism from those who believe it is time to return control of the district to local administrators, says Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press.

Early, 63, is the fourth governor-appointed emergency manager for DPS in the past six years. Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision was a difficult one, but the fact that the district continues to have serious financial and academic challenges is the reason for this appointment. DPS has a $169.5 million deficit.

“There’s progress being made, but there’s more to be done,” Snyder said, “and that’s what this transition is about today. … We’re going to stay on this path until we get better outcomes for the kids.”

Early started last week and will receive a salary of $225,000. His predecessor, Jack Martin, served in the position since July 2013. The new head of schools was Flint’s emergency manager since October of 2013, but also served as city manager in Saginaw, a city administrator in Flint, and budget director and controller for Ingham County. Snyder, a Republican,  pointed to Early’s success in dealing with financial matters as an excellent recommendation. The president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Keith Johnson, is furious about the choice of another emergency manager, when the last three have not been successful.

“I am offended as a citizen of the city of Detroit that, once again, the governor has blatant disregard and disrespect for the rights of the citizens … to elect and to empower their leaders,” he said. “Emergency managers can come and go, but the problems have stayed the same.”

But the governor answered these concerns by stating that school safety has improved, enrollment losses have stabilized, and progress has been made in the march toward improved academic achievement under Martin’s watch. The current DPS deficit is smaller than the $300 million 2010 deficit, but larger than the almost $80 million shortage DPS had when Martin began serving.

Early enters the fray as discussions about education reform in post-bankruptcy Detroit continue. The Skillman Foundation and other organizations formed a 31-member coalition last month to find solutions for poor academic achievement, financial problems, and other trouble surrounding education in the city.

Under the last three emergency managers, DPS has lost tens of thousands of students, closed dozens of schools, and struggled through numerous deficits, reports The Detroit News‘ Shawn D. Lewis. In November, the group Excellent Schools Detroit commissioned a report to convince Detroit mayor Mike Duggan to endorse a common enrollment system for all city public and charter schools. A proposal from the group in August suggested giving the mayor control of all city public schools. Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said:

“The governor continues to look at options for the Detroit Public Schools as he works with groups convened by the Skillman Foundation to move forward with vital community discussions about a long-term plan to help students and families in the city. A strong public school district is an important part of Detroit’s comeback.”

Detroit needs to fix its schools if desperately needed new residents are to be lured into the city.

This is about making sure we have a great city,” Mr. Snyder said in a news conference in a Detroit school, seated between the departing emergency manager, Jack Martin, and the arriving one, Darnell Earley.

The depressing state of Detroit’s educational system is not new. Over the past 20 years, students have been leaving Detroit schools because of families moving away, policies put in place allowing Detroit students to attend schools in the suburbs, the creation of charter schools in the city, and the moving of 15 failing schools into a state-led authority oversight position, according to Monica Davey, reporting for The New York Times. Some national assessments show that less than half of Detroit’s fourth and eighth graders are proficient in math and reading.

State officials put the emergency manager law into place so that school systems and cities could be quickly steered out of financial trouble in order to get back on track. Under state law, a governing body can remove an emergency manager after 18 months. Mr. Martin’s time was going to run out last week. Snyder says the school system problems are so serious that an emergency manager is essential.

“We don’t walk away from problems that took decades to get there,” Mr. Snyder said. He added at another point: “These issues didn’t come about in the course of several 18-month periods. These conditions came about because of decades of challenges.”