Recently Time magazine bought a house in Detroit and started moving in reporters for a year long project to chronicle life in the city of Detroit. Time Inc is calling this, “Assignment Detroit.” They have also started a blog with the hopes that this media attention will shed more light on what I believe to be a national tragedy. Instead of Assignment Detroit, I would have named the project, “The Death and Abandonment of an American City”.
There are plenty of problems in the city and even more blame to go around, but I would like to focus on the tragedy that is the Detroit Public School System. The DPS currently has about 94,000 students enrolled in 194 schools that cover all of the city of Detroit. That number of students is down 63 thousand in the past 6 years from 157 thousand in 2002. This shrinking population has “opened the flood gates” on the already overflowing budget of the school system. In early 2009, Jennifer Granholm appointed Robert Bobb as fiscal manager of DPS. What Bobb has found could be categorized as a combination of criminal, corrupt, shocking and appalling.
- The district offered employees a two-week grace period to report any unauthorized dependents on their plans. As a result, 411 ineligible dependents were uncovered many of which were too old or deceased, this will save the district $821,000 from now to the end of the calendar year. 1,545 DPS employees had ineligible dependents on the staff, costing the district an estimated $2.6 million for the entire fiscal year and those are just the people who turned themselves in.
- Found employees who are earning $8,000 a year and the district is paying somewhere between $13,000 and $14,000 a year for their medical costs.
- The district arrested at least 20 people for stealing $150,000 in equipment from schools.
- Police officers were getting a month of paid time off each year beyond their maximum vacation and sick days because of poor supervision.
- Three community groups leased space from the district but had stopped paying rent or had the utilities still in the DPS name.
- DPS was paying a national insurance company to cover grandfathered employees the insurance company could not name.
- DPS was paying a company to negotiate Medicade payments. They were pulling in $5 or $6 million when the district should be eligible for at least $60 million.
- The district also is saving$4 million by reorganizing some school bus routes. Where do you think the buses were going for 4 million dollars? $3.6 million after reducing taxi routes for special education students. $6.3 million with discounted payments to vendors; and $404,490 in health care late fee reimbursement.
- Bobb revealed the district’s public safety department had an undocumented inventory that included 11 motorcycles, 160 BlackBerries, 97 two-way phones and dozens of metal detecting stations and wands.
- DPS had land for the new Cass Tech and Detroit School of Arts appraised at $812,800. They paid $5.6 million for the properties in 2001 and 2002.
- DPS bought five floors of the Fisher building in 2002 for $24.1 million from a company that paid $21.7 million for the whole building a year earlier.
- DPS in 2003 bought a property at 1425 E. Warren for $11.9 million. The same property sold two years earlier for $1.3 million.
- DPS overpaid for the construction at both Cass Tech and Detroit School of Arts, paying $286 and $399 per square foot respectively, both well above the state average. The district also paid $3.8 million for additional parking at DSA that was never used.
- Earlier audits have uncovered problems ranging from shoddy bookkeeping to inappropriate personal loans given to school officials to $1.7 million in sales taxes that the tax-exempt district unnecessarily paid to the city.
- Evidence indicated that two custodians stole 30 DPS laptop computers worth $52,439, and further inquiries found that two DPS teachers and a teacher’s aide had three of the computers..
- Another investigation between the FBI and the DPS Office of Inspector General indicated that an accountant of 15 years at Golightly Career and Technical Center stole $30,000-$60,000 from the center, another $1,500 from the Golightly Middle School and was overpaid by more than $1,300 for hours not worked last summer.
- The principal of Golightly was suspended for using $1,884 in DPS funds to repair her vehicle, additional funds to pay for funeral floral arrangement and a reception for 60-80 guests and paying a vendor $30,000 to install audio-visual equipment, while much of the equipment was never delivered or installed.
- 2 Class B Engineers for the district were also employed full time as shift supervisors at Detroit Thermal, a local heating and cooling company. In order to maintain their employment at Detroit Thermal the employees inappropriately utilized both paid and unpaid DPS sick leave. When absent from their DPS jobs, the District was forced to pay other engineers to cover their job assignments. The first individual was hired by DPS on February 20, 1984 and began working for Detroit Thermal on January 4, 2005.
A few months ago, Bobb was fighting with the Detroit Federation of Teachers to verify payment and benefits. What he thought of was genius, He had all employees of the school system reapply for their own job. The union screamed that this breached the bargaining contract but Bobb ultimately won out. Without direct deposit set up each employee would have to pick up their paychecks from Bobb in person. At the end of the day they discovered checks were being directly deposited into 257 bank accounts that no one claimed.
Instead of being thankful and cooperating fully, the school board decided it would be best to fight Bobb on his authority. With about one out of every four kids graduating, facing a 259 million dollar deficit, mini-police stations set up on campuses to curb crime, corruption and fraud being committed all around, the board decided it should fight Robert Bobb and the way he is going about picking up the pieces of a broken school system. Unbelievable!!!
By the way, I did say that less than 25 percent of students from 2004 graduated in DPS last year. That is just abysmal.
You might notice the huge difference between reports from the State and EPE. The difference is the state statistics include only the students who began the year as seniors, totally throwing out the first three years.
Back to the school board fighting with Bobb, from the Detroit News;
“We have no problem working with him, but we have a problem with him working around us, (said board President Carla Scott). You can’t do something without discussing it with us. You don’t have a right to set the policy.”
The Detroit School Board filed a lawsuit that challenges the scope of Bobb’s authority as emergency financial manager under the Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act. The board complained that he did not consult with them his plans to overhaul the district. In a separate suit, the board is suing Bobb for making academic decisions. Now Bobb has turned around and counter sued the board for overstepping their authority by hiring a permanent Superintendent without his permission.
In the past six months Bobb has saved over 20 million dollars for the district. With help from auditors they have uncovered the massive waste and corruption that has plagued DPS for many years now. Give Governor Granholm some credit for taking heat from her party and appointing Bobb. She has also continued to back him in the face of these lawsuits trying to marginalize his efforts.
Six years after the Governor took over she has begun a long and painful process to turn the schools around. Give Robert Bobb some time and support and we may have a foundation for a good school system. Until then remember Bobb said, “It’s not easy closing the Bank of the Detroit Public Schools”.