Detroit Public Schools Continue to Suffer
Amid a deficit of $127 million dollars and expanding class sizes, Detroit Public Schools and its students continue to suffer. Bright spots however include expanding bilingual programming, creating a gifted and talented program, and giving teachers extra prep time before classes.
"Some Detroit Public Schools classrooms will be more crowded next year even though the district will continue to lose students, according to its proposed 2015 operating budget.
However, officials say they’re not planning to close any schools.
Budget documents released Friday show DPS will end its current fiscal year with a $127-million deficit — about $7 million more than projected less than two months ago. Hit by a steep decline in revenues, the district expects only a slightly smaller deficit — of $125 million — at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.
The head of the teachers union pledged Friday night to fight attempts to increase class sizes, saying larger classes would hinder learning. The proposed budget allows for as many as 43 students in sixth- through 12th-grade classrooms.
The documents also paint a bleak overall picture of the financial troubles that continue to plague DPS more than five years after it was put under emergency management.
For next year, officials anticipate revenues to decline by about $49.3 million. The budget is roughly $765 million.
DPS spokesman Steve Wasko attributed the decline, in part, to a reduction in grant funding. District officials said in a news release that other factors affecting the deficit include falling enrollment, [']prior year Medicaid services overpayment,['] increases in lighting and water rates and added campus security.
The district expects to have about 47,700 students in the 2014-15 school year. That’s down from the 48,730 students the state says DPS had this year, but it also reflects a smaller decline than the double-digit percentage losses seen in past years.
DPS emergency manager Jack Martin wrote that the district’s success will be defined by its ability to advance academic quality and stabilize and grow enrollment. DPS expects to eliminate its [']legacy deficit['] and be in the black by the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, he said.
[']The school district is committed to constantly review all expenditures for further, responsible reductions,['] he wrote. [']The remaining deficit elimination initiatives including those to be implemented FY 2015 will not at all be easy, but if everyone involved remains focused we can come out of this in a stronger position and continue to be able to successfully meet the educational needs of the families of the students who have entrusted their children’s success to us.[']
Under the budget plan, proposed class sizes would increase from 33 to 38 students in fourth and fifth grades and from 38 to 43 students in sixth through 12th grades. Class sizes for kindergarten through third grade would stay at 25 students.
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the proposed increases are unacceptable and would violate provisions in the union contract. Wasko said the contract allows for flexibility.
[']How conducive is that to learning? It’s not,['] Johnson said of the increase. [']Having 43 students in a classroom, it’s unmanageable.[']
Aliya Moore said she’s worried that the larger class sizes will mean her daughter, Chrishawna Jefferson, will get less individual attention at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy.
[']She just finished the sixth grade. Her class averaged 37 or 38 (students). It was packed in there,['] she said.
District officials said that for the first time in six years, the budget does not call for any schools to be closed.
DPS has been faced with financial challenges since 2006, officials said, with a general fund deficit ranging from as high as $327 million to as low as $76.5 million.
Restructured health care benefits will save $13.3 million, the district said. An employee severance plan will save $5.8 million.
The budget proposal also includes:
■ Plans to launch a gifted and talented school program.
■ The extension of successful dual immersion bilingual programs.
■ The expansion of career academy and adult educational regional center programming.
■ Support for a K-12 International Baccalaureate program.
■ An additional prep period for K-8 teachers.
The monthly budget report that DPS sent the state at the end of May for the month of April showed the district expected its deficit to be $120.3 million at the end of this fiscal year on June 30. Wasko said further budget reviews were conducted since then.
In April, DPS submitted a required deficit-elimination plan to the Michigan Department of Education for approval. State officials still haven’t signed off on it.
Longtime Detroit education activist Helen Moore said the budget documents released Friday are proof that emergency management isn’t working.
[']Under an emergency manager, we have been going backward,['] she said. [']Schools closing. Enrollment dropping. Classrooms filling up with more students, and the deficit increasing.[']
A public hearing on the budget will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday at Renaissance High School, 6565 W. Outer Drive."