Monday, August 27, 2012

Detroit School Board Votes to Subpoena Emergency Financial Manager

Detroit school board votes to subpoena emergency financial manager Roy Roberts

8:53 PM, August 27, 2012
By Chastity Pratt Dawsey
Detroit Free Press Education Writer

In the ongoing power struggle over control of the Detroit Public Schools, the school board voted tonight to subpoena Roy Roberts, the state-appointed emergency financial manager, to give a status report and answer questions at the Sept. 13 board meeting.

School board president LaMar Lemmons said Roberts would first be invited to update the board and the public on operations, but the subpoena would be issued “if necessary.”

It is unclear if Roberts plans to attend the Sept. 13 meeting. Recently, he has directed staff to work with the board on issues that have both financial and academic implication.

“Mr. Roberts is committed to following the law and (court) ruling that he and the board work collaboratively,” Steve Wasko, district spokesman, said after the vote.

The subpoena vote was one of several decisions the board made as it moved to assert its authority over the district’s academic operations.

The board regained power over academic operations on Aug. 8 after the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the state’s board of canvassers to allow voters to decide the emergency manager law. On Nov. 6, voters statewide will decide whether to repeal the controversial law that gave sweeping powers to state appointees who run the school districts and cities deemed to be in financial distress.

Among the decisions the board has made since then have been votes to rename more than 15 schools, fire the district’s spokesman and cancel the transfer of 15 schools to the state reform district. However, the board’s decisions are subject to corroboration from Roberts, who is in control of the budget, or subject to court order. He did not recognize those decisions and they did not take effect.

Tonight, the board also voted 7-3 to provide pro bono interim superintendent John Telford, 76, with a driver and a chief of staff. Telford agreed to work for $1. His presumed new chief of staff, former DPS teacher Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, also agreed to work for $1 until the upcoming election.

Today was also the day teachers were supposed to report to work to begin the 2012-13 school year. Hours before the board meeting, hundreds of teachers flooded the central office to find out if they were recalled. Layoff notices went out to all teachers in the district earlier this year. About 800 have yet to be recalled.

Just days before school is set to begin on Sept. 4, many parents and students do not know who their teachers will be because most of the 2,300 teachers recalled only received their school assignments over the past week or so. Another 500 teachers of the remaining 800 yet to be recalled are expected to be recalled this week, said Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Johnson got a standing ovation (about 100 people at the meeting) after passionately explaining that the union is preparing “the most massive lawsuit” against the district for making layoff decisions based on a “drive by” evaluation process.

“I am not optimistic about a smooth, ready transition into the new year,” Johnson said at tonight’s meeting.

Karen Ridgeway, the superintendent of academics, gave a report to the board and said she expects the district to be prepared for school on the first day.

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