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Education > News Hits

School rivalries

The fight between Bobb and Detroit board may have implications across the state

 

Published 10/14/2009

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Before the Monday, Oct. 12, editorial in The Detroit News, Detroit school board member Anthony Adams all but predicted the paper's endorsements — or lack of them — in the eight-candidate election for four at-large board of education seats next month.

"There is a natural bent along the editorial pages to denigrate leadership in most political institutions," says Adams, a deputy mayor under Kwame Kilpatrick who was chosen by appointment to fill an empty board seat in June.

Indeed, the News endorsed only newcomer Deborah Davis though four seats are up for grabs with four incumbents seeking re-election. "There are not four acceptable candidates on the ballot," the paper opined.

Editorial writers, in part, were looking "for candidates who were not interested in continuing the board's ongoing power struggle with Robert Bobb, the district's state-appointed emergency financial manager."

Bobb, who began in March, has not been shy about announcing results of his audits and investigations that have revealed millions of dollars in fraud, theft and misspending that has gone on for years in the state's biggest district. And yes, some of it was under the watch of the four incumbents.

But neither Bobb nor the board members have adopted a cooperative spirit to move the district forward. Under the auspices of his duties as financial manager, he's shuttered buildings, slashed teaching and counseling staff and promised further review of academic programs with hopes of reducing a deficit that's been as high as $409 million.

Although the board hasn't been dissolved by Bobb's appointment, it's been largely neutered by Bobb's statutory powers, even though the full board and its committees continue to meet.

Seeking to clarify Bobb's power to manage the district, the board also is suing Bobb in Wayne County Circuit Court. As the four incumbents are part of the board's lawsuit against Bobb, that pretty much took them out of the running for The Detroit News endorsement.

Meanwhile, beyond endorsements and the upcoming election, what happens with the Detroit board and Bobb has implications for fiscally troubled schools across the state.

Peter Spadafore, spokesman for the Michigan Association of School Boards, tells News Hits dozens of other Michigan districts are in deficit — one of the precursors to a governor-appointed emergency financial manager like Bobb. Spadafore predicts that given the Legislature's reduction in school aid payments this year, hundreds of districts could have deficits by the end of their fiscal year in June.

"With the number of districts in deficit, it's going to be hard to pick and choose which districts emergency financial managers will go into," Spadafore says.

Wherever they end up, EFMs need to work with boards, Spadafore says.

"The key to the success of an EFM is good board-financial manager communication where you can work to be on the same page," he says. "The board can set priorities in curriculum and programs and the EFM is there to facilitate the smooth operation of those priorities."

The board and Bobb have been ordered to meet with an arbitrator to begin crafting an agreement. Meanwhile, Adams and board attorney, Ben Gonek, have publicly said they're looking to add the state of Michigan to the lawsuit to clarify the EFM role.

"We're hoping there can be a meeting of the minds as to how business will be conducted," Gonek says.

And that's more than an election issue.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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