Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wayne RESA Should Run Detroit Public Schools by Akindele Akinyemi


Educational reform is needed in the State of Michigan. One such reform is the one where U.S. Department of Education Arne Duncan is promoting incentives for state lawmakers to turn over cities that have failing school districts over to the Office of the Mayor.

In Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing wants to control the Detroit Public School system.

State Representative LaMar Lemmons Jr. has introduced House Bill 5084 on June 11, 2009, to authorize a ballot measure in Detroit that would place the Detroit School District under the authority and management of the mayor.

However, before we look at that I think there is another model we need to take a look at that is non-traditional.

For a very long time I have been an advocate of Wayne RESA running the Detroit Public Schools. Wayne RESA (Regional Educational Service Agency) is the intermediate school district for Wayne County. It provides services such as group purchasing, computer service, and staff development. Its service sector covers 34 local school districts having approximately 20,000 teachers and 400,000 students.

An intermediate school district is a government agency usually organized at the county or multi-county level that assists local school district in providing programs and services. Additional they collect data for the state department of education. In Michigan, an Intermediate School District has a Board of Education chosen by a group of electors with one member from each local school district's Board of Education. Additionally they may recommend merger of school districts to the Michigan State Board of Education.

Michigan's 57 ISDs were formed in 1962 by Public Act 190, which took the state's existing 83 county school districts and renamed and reorganized them under the new name of "intermediate school districts."

ISDs are structured as separate taxing units to provide various administrative and instructional services to local school districts. All Michigan ISDs have elected board members. However, unlike school board members in local school districts who are popularly elected by the residents of a given school district, many ISD boards of education are chosen by the board members of each local school district within its borders. Each ISD has a superintendent that is hired by the board of education.

ISDs are involved in the accounting and auditing of student numbers for each district. Since Michigan counts students twice per year (in September and February) for funding purposes, the ISD provides auditors who visit each district to review student enrollment numbers. The auditors report each school district's K-12 student count to the state government. The data are then used for providing state aid to each local district.

Another area is the oversight of special education for local school districts. ISDs help relieve individual school districts of the responsibility of operating individual special education programs.

ISDs' third area of responsibility focuses on career technical education and career preparatory programs. In Kent County, approximately 2,500 students benefit from various vocational courses offered at the Kent Career and Technical Center. The emphasis is on hands-on education in courses ranging from agri-science to computer aided design.

The Bay-Arenac ISD-composed of seven school districts with a student population of 30,000-in Michigan's "thumb area" offers its local districts career technical education, professional development activities, curriculum development assistance, grant writing expertise, and pupil accounting.

However, many people do not realize that their property taxes support two school districts – the one that neighborhood kids attend, plus one of 57 Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) in Michigan. ISDs are an intermediate level of bureaucracy between regular school districts and the state Department of Education.

Taxpayers also do not realize that Proposal A’s prohibition on new school operating fund millages contains a big loophole: ISDs. Unlike regular school districts, which can only request new millages for buildings and other capital improvement projects, ISDs can go to the voters for more taxes to pay for day-to-day operations — the very practice that led to the taxpayer revolt which brought about Proposal A back in 1994.

Some feel that ISDs are a waste of taxpayers money. I propose that we should redefine what the role of the ISD should be to make it more accountable and effective. For instance, instead of allowing Mayor Dave Bing to run the schools we need to allow Wayne RESA to run Detroit Public Schools. In other words allow the counties to run the schools instead of local school districts by consolidation and eliminating services that are being duplicated. Most local school districts are doing the same thing as the ISDs which is causing districts to go into deficits and lose money. The Michigan model of school governance has failed and we need to take a look at radical approaches to running a transparent and effective school district.


Let's look at some examples of county ran school districts here in the United States.

(1) Clark County School District is the 5th largest school district in the United States. It serves all of Clark County, Nevada including the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas. The district is divided into 7 Regions and, in addition to the general schools, it also operates 25 Alternative Schools and Programs. The district also has limited involvement with charter schools but, with the exception of providing some bus service, does not have any involvement with the private schools in the county.

The school district is governed by a seven member board of trustees elected from sections of the county. There is only one superintendent.

Clark County schools operate on a budget of $2,497,253,000, has 14,862 teachers and a staff of 5,268.

(2) The Fairfax County Public Schools system (abbreviated FCPS) is a branch of the Fairfax County government which administers all public schools in Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax. With over 168,000 students enrolled, FCPS is the largest public school system in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area and in Virginia. The school division is the 13th largest school system in the nation and maintains the largest bus fleet of any school system in the United States.

The most notable commitment the county makes to its school system is the allocation of 52.2% of its fiscal budget to the school system. Including state and federal government contributions, along with citizen and corporate contributions, this brings the 2009 fiscal budget for the school system to $2.2 billion. The school system has estimated that, based on the 2006 fiscal budget, the county invested $13,340 in each student in 2009.

Since the early 1990s, FCPS' fastest growing segment is its Asian-American student population, which is second only to whites. Most of the Asian student growth comes from Korean Americans as Fairfax County is home to strong Korean American communities in business districts such as Annandale and Centreville. As a result, most FCPS schools have access to Korean interpreters and staff members to help parents who do not speak English well. There are also many Chinese American and Indian American students moving to Fairfax County.

(3) Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) is a large school district headquartered in Upper Marlboro, MD. The district serves the Prince George County which is the most affluent county in the United States with a majority African American population.

With approximately 128,000 students enrolled for the 2008–2009 school year, the Prince George's County Public Schools system is the second largest school district in the state of Maryland, the third largest school district in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area after Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia and Montgomery County Public Schools, MD and the 18th largest school district in the nation.

(4) The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is the branch of municipal government in New York City that manages the city's public school system. These schools form the largest school system in the United States, with over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,400 separate schools.The department covers all five boroughs of New York City. (Note: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island or the Bronx do not have their own school district).

Because of its immense size—there are more students in the system than people in eight U.S. states—the New York City public school system is the most influential in the United States. New experiments in education, text book revisions, and new teaching methods often originate in New York and then spread to the rest of the country.

(5) Montgomery County Public Schools is a school district that serves Montgomery County, MD. It is currently the largest school district in Maryland serving over 139,000 students. Students in the district score among the top in the United States in Advanced Placement examinations.

(6) Los Angeles Unified School District s the second-largest in the United States. It is the second largest employer in Los Angeles County after the county government.The total school district budget for 2008 was $19,986,000,000 US dollars.

(7) The Wake County Public School System is a public school district located in Wake County, North Carolina. With 137,706 students enrolled in 159 schools as of the 2008/09 academic year, it is the largest public school district in North Carolina. The current school system is the result of a 1976 merger between the previous (historically largely white) Wake County school system and the former (historically largely minority) Raleigh City schools.

The district since has become notable for its integration efforts. Schools in the system are today integrated based on the income levels reported by families on applications for federally subsidized school lunches, with the goal of having a maximum ratio of 40% low-income students at any one school. Consequently, thousands of suburban students are bused to magnet schools in poorer areas—and likewise, low-income students to suburban schools—to help maintain this income balance.

(8) The Puerto Rico Department of Education operates all schools in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico thus also functioning as a single school district.

These are models of governance in urban educational settings nationwide. You will find more county ran schools than city ran schools.

The Detroit Public Schools have been changing for a very long time. We have had area schools, reform boards and even been classified as a first class school district. None have worked to help our children, help our fiscal health of the school district nor has changed the way we should be viewing 21 century models of governance.

The Detroit Public Schools would see its school board abolished by July 1 and any public school statewide could be converted into a privately run “conversion” school. State Representative Phil Pavlov has introduced House Bill 5236, would define a first-class district as one with 60,000 students or more. However, it would terminate the elected board on July 1, 2010, and give all financial authority in a chief executive officer appointed by the mayor. The CEO would hold monthly meetings with a community advisory council.

The “conversion school” bill would allow 51% of parents or 51% of tenured teachers to petition a school board to convert a public school into charter school.

The bill is not a bad bill but after reading it for myself there are a few things I would add to this. One, because Attorney General Mike Cox has already ruled Detroit Public Schools as a general powers district and not a first class school district we no longer have to keep the number of students at 60,000. Second, instead of abolishing the Detroit Public School board and giving all financial authority in a chief executive officer appointed by Mayor Bing I would turn this responsibility over to Wayne RESA.

You can read the bill here at http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2009-2010/billintroduced/House/htm/2009-HIB-5236.htm

We know that Secretary Duncan and DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb wants Mayoral control of the Detroit Public Schools. But Bobb is only catering to the Detroit model of education. He already knows that his own reform efforts will be repealed the minute he leaves Detroit. Therefore, we need to look at serious educational reform models that work. Bobb knows the county ran model of education works because he saw this while he was a school board member of the D.C. Public Schools. So why is he catering to a failed Detroit reform model is beyond me.

It is time for serious educational reform efforts to take place both in Wayne County and at the state level to benefit urban areas such as Detroit. We do not have time for town hall meetings on this issue. What we need is educational reform activists who are not scared of the old guard of educational and civic leadership to get the job done. That is why I am asking people to begin this discussion on allowing Wayne RESA to run the Detroit Public Schools.

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