Without Aid, DPS May Close Half of Its Schools

Jennifer Chambers, Detroit News, January 11, 2011

Detroit Public Schools would close nearly half of its schools in the next two years, and increase high school class sizes to 62 by the following year, under a deficit-reduction plan filed with the state.

The plan, part of a monthly update Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb gives the Department of Education, was filed late Monday to provide insight into Bobb’s progress in his attempt to slash a $327 million deficit in the district to zero over the next several years. Under it, the district would slim down from 142 schools now to 72 during 2012-13.

Bobb has said school closures, bigger classes and other measures would be needed if he cannot get help from lawmakers to restructure finances in the state’s largest school district.

DPS considered but declined to file for bankruptcy in 2009. In the past year, debt in the district has increased by more than $100 million, brought on by a mix of revenue declines in property taxes, reduced state aid, declining enrollment and an unplanned staffing surge this past fall.

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Because the district’s contract with the Detroit Federation of Teachers requires payments to teachers for class sizes that exceed specified maximums, the district estimates it would spend $10 million in oversize class pay over four years.

Keith Johnson, president of the teachers union, said the proposed class size increases won’t work and will never happen.

“I will never agree to any class-size increases,” Johnson said. “These increases are antithetical to learning. Secondly, our classrooms aren’t even built to accommodate those numbers.

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The proposal calls for closing 40 schools in fiscal 2012 and 30 schools in fiscal 2013. That would leave DPS with 72 schools for a projected 58,570 students, down from about 74,000 now. The district closed 30 schools this fiscal year, which is expected to save $23 million. The planned closings in fiscal 2012-14 would save more than $33 million.

Bobb said the district could save another $12.4 million from the school closures if it “simply abandons” the closed buildings. Past policy has been to keep the closed schools clean and secure, officials said, but the district could cut costs by eliminating storage, board-up and security.

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