Politics & Prejudices
How Detroit Public Schools threw away $4 million
Enough to make you cry.
Published: June 17, 2014
Occasionally, the creatures running what’s left of the Detroit Public Schools make me long for the last crazy days of the late, not-so-great Chairman Mao and his Red Guards.
They didn’t bother with consent decrees and emergency managers back during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. If they’d ever had a school board chairman start masturbating in front of the superintendent (one of Detroit’s actually did) or some incompetent failed to file paperwork and lost $4 million earmarked to help a city’s neediest children … bam!
The guilty parties would’ve been frog-marched out of their offices, made to confess their crimes, marched through the streets wearing placards, and eventually sent to clean up pig shit by hand. Or they’d just be shot. In which case their families were sometimes billed for the cost of the ammunition.
Now, I don’t really mean we should do this here, honest. I’m committed to the due process of law, even for Republicans and members of the state legislature. Yet those running Detroit Public Schools have often been fools and borderline criminals who have gotten away with murder, intellectual and otherwise.
Without a doubt, some working there today deserve firing, shame, and public humiliation.
But don’t hold your breath. What I’m talking about is the stunning revelation that DPS threw away $4 million in Head Start money, denying nearly a thousand 4-year-olds the opportunity to be part of the program this year.
You almost can’t exaggerate how awful this is. Head Start is one of the best and most effective government programs ever. Also, one of the most necessary, especially in a place like DPS.
Today, largely only the most needy kids remain in Detroit Public Schools, those whose parents or caregivers are unwilling or unable to get them out of there. Eighteen years ago, when today’s high school seniors were being born, Detroit Public Schools had 183,000 students. Today they have maybe 47,000.
Most of these kids haven’t had parents who read to them, took them places, and stimulated their minds. More than four out of five live in poverty, sometimes extreme poverty. By the time they get to kindergarten, it’s often literally too late.
That’s why Head Start is so vitally important. Yet this year, there apparently won’t be any Head Start in Detroit Public Schools because some lazy, stupid, or incompetent bureaucrat failed to apply for Head Start funding. What’s more shocking is that the slugs who run the schools don’t seem to much care.
We only know about this now because of the good work of Chastity Pratt Dawsey, an excellent reporter who used to cover education for the Detroit Free Press. These days, she works for a new institution doing some of the best journalism in Michigan: the nonprofit Center for Michigan’s Bridge magazine.
Once she discovered this horrendous error, you might have expected Emergency Manager Jack Martin, the guy who runs Detroit Public Schools, to have a press conference, assume responsibility, apologize to the public, and explain.
You would expect an investigation and firings. But no. All that happened is that Michelle Zdrodowski, the schools’ latest PR spokesperson, was trotted out to say the disaster happened because of “technical difficulties uploading information.”
That’s even worse than the immortal words of the NASA announcer who, as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded with seven astronauts inside, told the world it was “obviously a major malfunction.” At least NASA admitted there was a problem.
According to press reports, Zdrodowski then proceeded to insult everyone’s intelligence by saying the district would be able to provide adequate pre-education programs by using slightly increased Great Start Readiness money from the state.
There are those who think this was not incompetence, but deliberate. That Gov. Rick Snyder wants to destroy Detroit Public Schools, so that his corporate buddies who run for-profit charters can swarm in, get a piece of the action and some of the billions our state spends on public education every year.
Increasingly, it makes no difference whether or not this is true. You could make a rational argument that these days, you’d have to be a fool or a psychopath to place your child into the horror that is the Detroit Public Schools.
Apart from the sacrifice of a lot of 4-year-old minds, here’s another reason this fiasco is so incredibly damaging:
This sets Detroit itself back more than most people realize. Detroit’s “midtown revival” is largely theater.
As Kurt Metzger, our area’s Great Demographer, told me long ago, Detroit’s hipsterization attracts mostly “the newly wed and almost dead.” Yes, twenty and thirty-somethings are crowding into lofts, shopping at Shinola, entertaining each other at microbreweries, and pretending they are urban now.
But their driver’s licenses still say “Troy” or “Huntington Woods” because they don’t want their car insurance premiums to triple. And when Jennifer and Keisha get pregnant, they and their partners are outta there for Ferndale or Southfield.
The bottom line is this: Detroit can and most likely will bring down crime by flooding the streets with cops. Mayor Mike Duggan can and most likely will get a lot of these derelict structures bulldozed. There are lots of hopeful signs.
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