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Tom Bleakley

Unbelievable . . .

I’ve always heard the term ‘dog and pony’ show, and thought I understood the gist of what it meant. But until last evening, I’d never really experienced such an event firsthand. First, a little background; the man who put on this ‘show’ claims a certain fealty to the law. He is a former federal judge who has now assumed the role of what what he describes as a ‘transitional manager’ and who claims that the law, Public Act 436, that creates his position is legal and must be followed. However, nowhere in that ‘law’ does it mention the phrase ‘transitional manager’, but it does create the position the man was appointed by Gov. Snyder to fill, the dictator-like position of emergency manager. Now, let me interrupt myself for a moment and say that I can fully understand why the man doesn’t want to be known as an emergency manager. In 1999 when the state first took over the district it was described as the best school district in the nation of all districts containing 100,000 or more children. The four men who preceded the ‘dog and pony’ guy as ‘emergency managers’ of the Detroit Public Schools since 2009 have succeeded in taking the once-proud jewel of the Detroit Public School district, and literally run it into the ground creating a long-term debt well into the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. Not only have these ‘emergency managers’ destroyed the district financially, more importantly they have presided over the ruination of the lives of countless thousands of children by failing to provide the public education guaranteed, indeed mandated, by the Michigan constitution (I learned in law school that the principles set forth in the constitution trumped statutes). Test scores of DPS children have declined so that the district now carries the stigma of being the worst in the nation. But, I digress. Let me just say that I can fully understand why Judge Rhodes does not want to be called ‘emergency manager’ because of what these earlier guys did to ruin the district, but if the law is the law, he is the emergency manager. Nowhere in the Michigan statutes or the constitution does it mention the phrase ‘transitional manager.’ Google it if you want to check out my representation in that regard.

Now to the remainder of the dog and pony show; first some wonderful students of Martin Luther King High School were paraded before the audience as an apparent attempt to show that the school district was capable of providing quality educations to these students. As this handful of fine young people were given standing ovations, I couldn’t help but think that the numbers of DPS children who failed to achieve proficiency in reading at the end of the third grade, the standard benchmark by which all school districts are judged, wouldn’t have fit into the large auditorium where this ‘show was being carried out. In fact, they wouldn’t have fit into the entire school. More than 90% of the thousands of third-graders in the DPS the past three or four years have failed to reach the level of reading proficiency required for later success in life. Perhaps an auditorium full of these children would have been more representative of the quality of education being provided to DPS students. But, I guess that emergency manager Rhodes would know about that. He freely admitted last evening that he had no background or training in education. By the way, the sum total of educational training and experience of the five emergency managers who have run the school district since 2009 is exactly zero.

The purpose of this dog and pony show, as I understand it, was to sell the attendees a bill of goods on the upcoming changes that will be made in the DPS. However, out of the side of his mouth EM Rhodes declared that it was his mission to ‘save’ the Detroit Public Schools and return power to the elected school board, but nowhere did he mention that the bills pending in the State Legislature would change the name of a newly-created district, free of the debt created by the state, to Detroit Community Schools which would provide education to the children, while the Detroit Public Schools would exist as a fiction only to allow Detroit taxpayers to pay down the state=created debt over a substantial number of years. I wonder why EM Rhodes also failed to mention that the 175 year-old DPS would no longer be responsible for teaching students and the name would disappear when Detroit taxpayers finally pay off the billions of dollars (Including interest) on the state-created debt. EM Rhodes did say, however, that he told the legislature that he thought it would be ‘nice’ if the legislature gave him $100 million more than they are going to give him to start up the new school district. Particularly when he admitted that children in white school districts were receiving more money per pupil than the current children of the DPS (87% African-American and 7% Hispanic). The extra $100 million would be ‘nice’, but even that amount is based on sheer speculation. Apparently, the previous EM Darnell Earley, fresh off his outstanding performance as EM in Flint where his actions poisoned hundreds of thousands, fired the auditors who could have provided the information as to how much the district really needs to restore a semblance of educational quality and sanity to its operations.

EM Rhodes also continuously dodged and refused to answer questions about the absolute need for a forensic audit of what has happened to the DPS, but he did indicate that he was hiring an auditor. Just off the top of my head, I know that hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on the failed experiment of the EAA, not to mention more hundreds of millions dollars missing or unaccounted for ‘services’ allegedly provided by no-bid ‘consultants’. Then, there’s the bribes and kickbacks as exemplified by the recent criminal charges (and resulting guilty pleas) brought against school principals. More children in Detroit now attend charter schools than the public schools and it is a matter of secrecy as to how many millions of taxpayer dollars go into the pockets of profit-making owners of these schools (whose levels of educational performance, by the way, are worse with a few exceptions than the DPS). Who knows what else, unless there is a forensic audit performed which would likely expose the extent of state mismanagement of the district?

But the state legislators don’t want to know that. They are comfortable blaming it all on the local school Board. The same school Board to which the EM law requires that “I must obey the law” EM Rhodes provide reports but hasn’t, the same school board that has never met with EM Rhodes despite many requests to do so by various members of the Board, the same school Board whose various members were given two minutes (indicated by a clock on a large screen counting down the seconds on the stage of the auditorium) to tell how important it was for EM Rhodes to require a forensic audit (fobbed off as “too expensive”), the same school Board who attempted (to no avail) to get former EM Roy Roberts to follow DPS guidelines in the handling of the sexual molestation of an innocent school boy by Charles Pugh. I could go on and on but these examples are enough to make my final point. I’m proud of this much-maligned publicly-elected school Board because of their complete and utter devotion to the welfare of DPS children. Like Chad, Somalia, Iraq and iran, the DPS district under the emergency managers, is only one of 24 dictatorships in the world and this Board has fought this anti-democratic process since it began.

Just saying . . .
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