A Drastic Cut for Detroit Schools

  • It says a lot about a plan when its author declares that it won't work. In January, Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of Detroit's ailing public schools, met his legal obligation to submit a blueprint to balance the system's budget. His proposal: shutter 70 of the Motor City's 142 public schools and consolidate services to erase a $327 million deficit by 2014. The plan has obvious problems. State aid, which is doled out on a per-student basis, would plummet. The average high school class size would spike to more than 60. Bobb admitted the plan was not "viable" and said it would hasten the exodus from an already cash-strapped system. Nonetheless, state officials told him to get started.

    The closures would be a dark coda to a difficult tenure. Appointed in 2009, Bobb inherited an eight-figure deficit, a shrunken tax base and a wasteful bureaucracy. Enrollment has plunged more than 50% over the past decade, spurred by suburbanization and the charter-school boom. Bobb, who is scheduled to leave in June, has cut more than 1,000 jobs and closed dozens of schools already. Detroit's 2010 high school graduation rate of 62% was its highest in four years, but test scores remain among the lowest in the U.S.

    Bobb and school-board officials are scrambling to devise a different way of dealing with the deficit. If they don't, a bad situation is about to get worse.