Bobb told to consolidate services, close half of schools to end deficit
Jennifer Chambers / The Detroit News
Lansing— Swift and severe changes are coming to Detroit Public Schools.
State education officials have ordered Robert Bobb to immediately implement a financial restructuring plan that balances the district's books by closing half of its schools, swelling high school class sizes to 60 students and consolidating operations.
This week, Bobb, the district's emergency financial manager, said he is meeting with Detroit city officials and will set up a meeting with Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency to discuss consolidation opportunities in areas such as finance, public safety, transportation and other areas.
Bobb also is preparing a list of recommended school closures and Friday said layoff discussions are under way and would be announced closer to April, when notices would be issued. "We are moving forward with the plan," he said "Right now my focus is on my transition plan and the DEP (deficit elimination plan)."
Bobb's last day with DPS is June 30. After that, the state plans to install another financial manager who must continue to implement Bobb's plan, according to a Feb. 8 letter from Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction.
In the letter, Flanagan said the Michigan Department of Education gave preliminary approval to Bobb's plan to bring the 74,000-student district out of its financial emergency. As a condition of approval, Flanagan said Bobb cannot declare the district in bankruptcy during the remainder of his contract.
Bobb, appointed emergency financial manager in March 2009, filed his deficit elimination plan with the state in January, saying it would wipe out the district's $327 million deficit by 2014. On Feb. 9, he told state lawmakers the plan is the only way DPS "can cut its way out" of its legacy deficit.
At the same time, Bobb said he doesn't believe the proposal is viable because it would drive more students away, exacerbating the district's financial emergency. But on Friday, Bobb confirmed he is working to implement the plan that will shrink the district to 72 schools for a projected 58,570 students in 2014.
"I believe the district can work its way out of these challenges," Bobb said. "It will take some time. I am firm believer we have to continue to make the deep cuts, and they are going to be painful. In the long run, the district will be stronger. There can be no retreat."
Bobb said he continues to work on an alternative plan — one similar to a General Motors-style restructuring — but has yet to release details or announce a sponsor for such a bill.
"Whatever comes out of the transition plan and whatever my new thinking is will be a part of that," he said.