Saturday, April 17, 2010

Detroit Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction to Halt School Closings, Academic Decisions by EFM

Posted: April 17, 2010

Bobb's plans for Detroit schools blocked by judge


The Detroit school board on Friday won the first round in a legal battle against state-appointed emergency financial manager Robert Bobb, gaining a court order to halt for now his plan to close 41 school buildings and make dramatic academic changes in Detroit Public Schools.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter granted the school board a preliminary injunction that bars Bobb from making any decisions on closures or academics without first consulting with the board. She said that is required by law.

The ruling requires Bobb to meet publicly with the board on a monthly basis starting this month.

"People want to think that the board is against reform; nothing could be further from the truth," board member Anthony Adams said after the ruling. "We were never given any information."

The board sued Bobb last August claiming he was overstepping his legal authority by making academic decisions and refusing to meet with the board.

The injunction bars Bobb from administering a new quarterly exam to students, making plans to stop social promotion and creating school campuses that could include college-level students.

"Today, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge sentenced the schoolchildren of the city of Detroit to continued failure," Bobb said. "As a community, we cannot allow this to stand. ... We have begun discussions with the Attorney General's Office regarding the next steps to fight this for the students."

The two sides expect to be back in court next week to discuss the boundaries of Bobb's powers.

Ruling doesn't mean Bobb must do what board wants

Friday's ruling granting the Detroit school board a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against Bobb might only be a short-lived victory, particularly when it comes to Bobb's plan to close 41 school buildings.

Baxter mandates that Bobb must meet with the board on a monthly basis. The law clearly states that emergency financial managers must consult with a school board on financial plans, she said.

But the ruling does not say he has to do what the board wants. Conceivably, Bobb could proceed with his plan on the school closings after meeting with the board.

The future of his academic plan is less certain.

Baxter said she interpreted the Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act that allowed Gov. Jennifer Granholm to appoint Bobb as not allowing Bobb authority over academics. To get that power, the Legislature would have to amend state law or create a new law, she said.

Bobb has said the two issues -- academics and finances -- are intertwined. He has said he cannot deal with one without dealing with the other.

Baxter appeared to disagree.

"You cannot do through the back door what you cannot do through the front door," she said. "You cannot run roughshod over the law."

Both sides are to appear in court next week as the judge hears testimony to help decide whether to make the injunction permanent.

Bobb condemned the ruling and said he has begun discussion with the Attorney General's Office. "Today, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge sentenced the school children of the city of Detroit to continued failure," Bobb said. "To a life of social promotion in dilapidated facilities with outdated technology, using outmoded academic policies and programs."

Still, Steve Wasko, spokesman for Detroit Public Schools, said Bobb hopes to meet with the school board to discuss the school closings plan.

Granholm, who appointed Bobb in March 2009, is reserving comment until she has had a chance to review the judge's ruling, spokeswoman Liz Boyd said.

Though Bobb might still close schools in June, school board members called the ruling a victory.

"I am very, very excited that the judge has taken a stand," board member Annie Carter said. "Someone has delineated between what a financial manager can do. She has given us clarity."

George Washington, attorney for the board, said Bobb, who took away the board's budget for outside counsel, has been boldly making all decisions for the school district because no one stepped up to stop him.

"That's what we have laws for, to keep people from being dictators," he said.

But he acknowledged that it might be a mixed victory.

"If (Bobb) says he is closing schools because there's no money, he can do that after he consults with the board," Washington said. "Insofar as he's closing schools as part of an academic plan -- no, he can't do that."

The courtroom was packed with school board supporters, who hailed the ruling.

However, Ann Crowley, a DPS teacher, said she was disappointed by the ruling because Bobb's ideas call for improvements in the delivery of instruction.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, they really have a plan,' " she said. "We can't lose another year with our kids."

As the ruling was announced, Bobb was whisked out of a meeting at Crary Elementary School across town and into a waiting vehicle as several parents yelled their displeasure with his plans to close that school and others.

"It's a bunch of bull crap," said Gloria Edwards, whose daughter is a kindergartner at Crary. "He isn't listening to parents."

Activist Helen Moore, one of Bobb's most vocal critics, said what's happening in DPS under Bobb is discrimination and compared the situation to the lawsuit Brown vs. the Board of Education.

"It's a civil rights matter," Moore said. "I think that people who have been in Mr. Bobb's corner, while he's destroying the public school system, will take another look at what's happening and decide that what they are doing was not in the best interests of our children. This is irreparable harm, and we knew that all along."

Board members said the board has a responsibility to develop policies for the district but Bobb was making it difficult. The board has said it never got a report on the school closings and savings.

"This board has never, never said they do not want to be at the table with Mr. Bobb," Carter said. "This board has never wanted to cripple the financial manager and keep him from doing his duties."

Board member Tyrone Winfrey, formerly chairman of the finance, budget and legislative committees, said he last met with Bobb in December.

"I am not on the school board to be a figurehead," Winfrey said. "I was elected to the school board. I want to be able to fulfill my role."

He said the board has to implement a plan for the district that covers four areas: facilities/information technology, safety/security, academic achievement and financial planning.

Contact CHASTITY PRATT DAWSEY: 313-223-4537 or Staff writers Lori Higgins, Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki and Cecil Angel contributed to this report.

April 17, 2010

Judge halts Bobb's plans for DPS

Ruling: He likely exceeded authority in academic, school closing proposals

The Detroit News

Detroit -- Parents and students upset over school closings found some hope Friday that their neighborhood buildings won't close in June after a Wayne Circuit Court judge put the brakes on a plan to close a quarter of them.

The ruling by Wayne Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter also blocks the Detroit Public Schools' Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb from implementing his academic plan without consulting the school board and bans him from testing students every quarter, ending social promotion and changing grade levels in schools.

Baxter's preliminary injunction is in response to a lawsuit the Detroit Board of Education filed against Bobb, alleging he overstepped his authority by making academic decisions and by failing to consult with the 11-member board.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a public power struggle between the board and Bobb. Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Bobb last year and ordered him to turn around the district's finances, but opponents say he has been making academic decisions without obvious authority outlined in state law.

"I'm bubbled over with joy about it," school board member Reverend David Murray said. "It shows, in fact, Robert Bobb was trampling over the rights of the people and of the school board. The action the judge took today was fair and it protects the rights of the people who elected us."

The order doesn't end the case, and both sides are expected back in court next week. Bobb pledged to fight the ruling.

"Today, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge sentenced the school children of the city of Detroit to continued failure," he said at a news conference after the ruling at Crary Elementary, where parents and staff tried to convince Bobb their building should be spared closure.

"We cannot allow this to stand. ... We have begun discussions with the Attorney General's Office regarding the next steps to fight this for the students."

Keeping Crary open is vital to parents like Ashanti Hearn, who decided last year to relocate her kids from a Southfield charter school to Detroit. Now six of her seven children, ages 5 to 17, are attending schools slated to close.

"I'm a Detroit Public Schools person," said Hearn, 35. "It's not just about the kids. It's about the community. We all look out for each other."

Arline Allen, a noon classroom aide at Crary, says tearing down schools will not help the city.

"If we close all the elementary schools, where are the children going to go and how are they going to get there?" she said. "Think about what you are doing and who you are doing it to. You are doing it to the children and they are suffering."

In March, Bobb unveiled a $540 million academic plan to boost standards, offer college level courses and reach graduation rates of 98 percent by 2015. The school board had passed its own academic plan during the summer, but Bobb hadn't funded it.

The same week, Bobb announced his facilities plan to close 44 school programs by June and another 13 by 2012. The closures have sparked an outcry.

"That's a victory for us," parent Patricia Hicks-Lark said of the ruling. She believes her child's Hanstein Elementary has a better shot of staying open now that the board has a say.

In contrast, teacher Ann K. Crowley said she was horrified by the news.

"I hate the fact that schools have to close," said Crowley, who supports Bobb's plans. "... but we need to step up and unite and get on the same page because we don't have time to lose another generation of children."

Baxter is charged with deciphering Public Act 72 of 1990, the emergency financial manager law from which Bobb draws his authority. Nowhere in the law does it mention academics, but Baxter made clear at a Dec. 18 hearing on the case that decisions that are entirely academic should be left up to the board, while decisions that are purely financial fall under Bobb's authority. The gray areas could be determined on a case by case basis, she said.

In making her decision Friday, Baxter said she believed the school board was "likely to prevail on the merits" and that "irreparable harm to the (school board) and to the public outweighs any harm to the defendant emergency financial manager."

Specifically, her ruling:

# Prevents Bobb from making decisions on school closings before Friday.

# Bars Bobb from implementing his academic plan or school closing plan without consulting with the school board.

# Prevents Bobb from implementing quarterly benchmark tests, called Q2 and Q3; the ban on social promotion; or the changing of grade levels of schools.

# Orders Bobb to consult monthly with the board, starting this month.

The ruling means Bobb "has to stop acting like a dictator and start acting like someone who has to respect the authority of the elected school board and the citizens who elected it," said school board attorney George Washington.

District spokesman Steven Wasko said district officials will meet with the full board to discuss Bobb's facilities plan. They have previously met with only one board member, he said.

Mark Moroni, a DPS elementary school teacher, said it's too early to tell whether the ruling will clear up the power struggle that has trickled down into the classrooms. This year, Bobb ordered benchmark tests to students, while the school board and superintendent moved to stop them.

"You are insubordinate any way you do it," said Moroni. "It puts us in a precarious situation. Teachers don't want to take sides. Teachers want to teach."

Additional Facts About the law

# Allows the state to appoint an emergency financial manager to a school district in the case of a serious financial problem.
# Says the emergency financial manager shall develop a financial plan "in consultation" with the school board. The Detroit school board alleges Bobb hasn't consulted with it.
# Doesn't address academics. It's the board's contention that since the financial manager is not specifically granted power over academic decisions, those decisions remain in control of the elected school board. Bobb has said DPS faces an academic and financial emergency that warrants his attention.
# Read the law at

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