To avoid bankruptcy, Detroit will close half its public schools, letting class sizes rise to 60 students, and contract out services. The state has refused to bail out Detroit Public Schools and the legislature is considering bills that would let emergency financial managers take over cities or school districts in fnancial crisis and “toss out union contracts, dissolve school boards and set wage and benefit levels without collective bargaining,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
In Wisconsin, protesting teachers are back in school today after four days of sick-outs. Protests continue in Madison against a bill that would limit collective bargaining rights and require public-sector workers to contribute to their health and pension plans.
The budget-cutting plan was written by Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager, as a desperation move if more revenue couldn’t be raised. The state education department has approved the plan and set implementation deadlines, though Bobb still hopes to raise more money.
Declining population and transfers to charters and suburban schools have cut the district’s enrollment in half since 1999. Detroit now has 73,000 students in 142 schools; that’s expected to shrink to 58,570 students in 72 schools by 2014.
Bobb was appointed two years ago to close a $218 million deficit in a district riddled with waste and corruption, reports the Journal.
But the deficit deepened during his tenure, weighed down by salary, pension and health-care obligations. The longtime municipal manager said that without the cuts and cost-savings measures he has made since 2009, the district would face a deficit of more than $500 million today.
Meanwhile, many of his efforts to restructure the district’s academics and finances were derailed by clashes with unions and with the elected school board, which recently won a court fight to control academics and select the next superintendent.
Bobb’s term ends soon; he’ll leave June 30. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder may appoint a successor, “which would keep the elected board of education largely sidelined on financial matters for the near future,” reports the Journal.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers has called for an emergency lobbying day today in Lansing to protest the legislation expanding the powers of emergency financial managers.