Snyder, City Weigh Options to Fix Detroit Schools

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A debate is heating up concerning the best approach to reshape the management of public schools in Detroit.

A new recommendation from education reformers is to create a centralized system where parents enroll their children in school. Detroit Public Schools currently operates under a decentralized system of 97 schools in conjunction with 64 charter schools.  The schools are operated by a dozen different authorizers across the state, and 15 former DPS schools are under the watchful eye of the Education Achievement Authority.

The 47,238-student district is still buried under a $127 million operating deficit, for which Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is busy exploring options.  The task has reached a new sense of urgency as an 18-month term for DPS Emergency Manager Jack Martin comes to an end this January.

Snyder would like to talk about options for the district with Mayor Mike Duggan, City Council members and other community leaders as the city’s municipal bankruptcy comes to an end.

“Let’s look at a system of saying, how do we get better results out of the schools?” Snyder said in a Nov. 5 interview with The Detroit News, the day after he won a second term. “I’m very open to engaging in a broader discussion.”

Advice on the issue is coming from Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana schools chief who helped New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina by introducing two charter schools for every one district-operated school.  The Broad Foundation, who helped to create the EAA, will be funding Pastorek’s services.

The goal of the EAA is to help turn around the performance of students at the lowest-performing schools in the state.  It currently serves nine elementary and middle schools, and six high schools in Detroit.

So far, Pastorek is still collecting information and has made no recommendations to the governor’s office.

“He’s not tasked to come up with a recommendation per se,” Dave Murray, a spokesman for Snyder, said Thursday. “He’s lending a voice, an expertise to a process.”

He has met with school leaders across the state who work with both charter schools and traditional schools, focusing on the different layers of educational entities.

“He’s been really good about asking good questions … and not revealing what he’s thinking,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charter schools.

A new report from nonprofit Excellent Schools Detroit, the group responsible for publishing an academic score card for all schools in Detroit, recommends the creation of a centralized system that would see a uniformed guide and application for enrolling in all Detroit schools, as well as “creation of a central administrative body to serve as the point of accountability to families in distributing, collecting and processing applications.”

The authors would like to see Duggan take control, as he has “the most publicly accountable and neutral office, and if he chooses to become more active in education, his office would be ideal.”

Although the mayor has not ruled out being involved in the city’s public education system, he said he does not want to be completely responsible while at the same time looking into a restructuring plan for City Hall.

“Could there be a central authorizing role, including common enrollment? Those are things we are going to look at over the next year,” Duggan said Wednesday.