The Detroit Public School District faces a
number of changes as a result of recent budget cuts, which will
lead to substantial faculty and staff layoffs — 3,200
employees, including at least 900 teachers to be exact. Officials
said Thursday that these layoffs are a result of a $78 million
budget shortfall, just for this school year. Next year, due to a
combination of declining enrollment and higher costs for employee
benefits such as health care, the school system will be forced to
deal with a budget shortages of $91 million.

Mira Levitan

The root of this problem lies deeper than a simple lack of
money. The state’s reward allocations to its schools are
principally based on how many students each school has. In the past
eight years, student enrollment has dropped 16.8 percent. Detroit
Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Burnley found that
the decision to follow through with the layoffs was not at all an
easy one. There will have to be an increase in class size, as there
will not be nearly enough teachers to maintain the number of
classes that are currently taught.

To make a grave situation even worse, the school district is
still waiting to hear whether or not it is going to receive
financial assistance from the state. The district is expecting to
receive a $15 million portion of the state’s budget in order
to aid in its reform effort, but this has yet to be finalized. If
that money is not approved by the state Legislature, immediate
changes will take place, such as the removal of full-day
kindergarten and a decrease in the number of school security
officers. The class sizes in kindergarten through third grade will
also be affected.

What makes this even more frustrating is that with a more
representative school board, the decision to lay off so many
employees may never even have emerged. Under current law, the
school board consists of seven board members, six of whom are
appointed by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The seventh is the state
superintendent, who maintains veto power over the other board
members’ votes. The school system has operated in this way
since 1999, when former Gov. John Engler ordered a state takeover
of the school district. Perhaps if school board officials were more
accountable to the city’s residents, they would not be so
quick to eliminate so many positions.

Blame for the crumbling state of the school system can also be
allocated to the 1994 passage of Proposal A, which was enacted in
order to tackle disparities in public school funding. While it was
a positive step in that the proposal closed the gap in funding
between the state’s richest and poorest districts, the
proposal has its negative aspects as well because it favors schools
in growing suburban areas with increasing student populations,
while urban schools with diminishing numbers of enrolled students
are penalized.

Until state and city officials begin to make funding
Detroit’s schools a top priority, the city will not be able
to undergo the type of renaissance they promise is on the way.

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