[Marxism] Crumbling, Destitute Schools Threaten Detroit’s Recovery

Andrew Pollack acpollack2 at gmail.com
Thu Jan 21 09:34:42 MST 2016

re Economic Collapse as per Louis, absolutely. Notice mentions of debt -
just as protests against debt-mandated austerity are mushrooming again in
I think we're going to have to invite CADTM

On Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 9:03 AM, Louis Proyect via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

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> (A more accurate title for this article would be "Crumbling, Destitute
> Schools Product of Detroit's Economic Collapse".)
> Crumbling, Destitute Schools Threaten Detroit’s Recovery
> DETROIT — In Kathy Aaron’s decrepit public school, the heat fills the air
> with a moldy, rancid odor. Cockroaches, some three inches long, scuttle
> about until they are squashed by a student who volunteers for the task.
> Water drips from a leaky roof onto the gymnasium floor.
> “We have rodents out in the middle of the day,” said Ms. Aaron, a teacher
> of 18 years. “Like they’re coming to class.”
> Detroit’s public schools are a daily shock to the senses, run down after
> years of neglect and mismanagement, while failing academically and
> teetering on the edge of financial collapse. On Wednesday, teachers again
> protested the conditions, calling in sick en masse and forcing a shutdown
> of most of the city’s almost 100 schools.
> As Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, grapples with the crisis in Flint,
> where residents have been poisoned by the local water supply under a
> state-appointed emergency manager, he has also had to confront the
> emergency here, another poor, largely African-American city with a problem
> that has also festered under state control.
> Things have become so bad, district officials say, that the Detroit public
> school system could be insolvent by April.
> “They’re in need of a transformational change,” Mr. Snyder, a Republican,
> acknowledged in his State of the State speech Tuesday. “Too many schools
> are failing at their central task. Not all Detroit students are getting the
> education they deserve.”
> Many worry that the state of the schools will hamper Detroit’s recovery
> from bankruptcy, a recovery evident in the new loft-style townhouses and
> the bustling Whole Foods that Ms. Aaron passes near her school, where she
> teaches fifth grade.
> Residents wonder how the city can ever recoup its lost population and
> attract young families if the public schools are in abysmal shape.
> “As we begin to rebuild this city and we’re seeing money and development
> moving in, people are understanding that there is no way we can improve
> Detroit without a strong educational system,” said Mary Sheffield, a native
> of Detroit and a City Council member. “We have businesses and restaurants
> and arenas, but our schools are falling apart and our children are
> uneducated. There is no Detroit without good schools.”
> In protest over the conditions, teachers began a series of sickouts in
> recent weeks, inconveniencing many families and reducing classroom
> instruction time for many students who could ill afford it, but pushing the
> matter to the forefront.
> The problems predate the municipal bankruptcy. One of the biggest is
> enrollment, which has been in free fall. In 2000, Detroit Public Schools
> had close to 150,000 students; this year, there are fewer than 45,000.
> In recent decades, large numbers of people have left Detroit, which was
> once the nation’s fourth most populous city. Many of those who stayed chose
> to enroll their children in traditional public schools in the suburbs, or
> in charter schools, which more than half of school-age children from
> Detroit now attend.
> According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, about 20
> percent of school-age children in Detroit were attending charter schools in
> 2006. By 2014, that number was up to 55 percent.
> Most of the charter schools are outside district control but receive
> public money, drawing funds from the traditional system that would be used
> for its overhead and wages, critics complain.
> Even after closing schools and reducing its work force, the Detroit Public
> Schools have $3.5 billion in outstanding debt, much of it from pension
> liabilities, according to a report this month from the Citizens Research
> Council of Michigan, a nonpartisan public affairs research organization in
> Lansing.
> The appointment in 2009 of an emergency manager to take charge of the
> struggling district has not turned the finances around. (The appointment
> predates the election of Mr. Snyder in 2010, but he has elected to maintain
> the arrangement.)
> “We’re on our fourth emergency manager here,” said Craig Thiel, a senior
> research associate for the Citizens Research Council. “They each seem to be
> borrowing from the same playbook: figure out a way to get through the
> current year, end the year without going insolvent, and then push costs
> onto the next year in the hopes that things will improve in some way.
> They’re dealing with these debts that should have been paid off years ago
> that have instead been put on future budgets.”
> Academically, the district’s performance is also alarming. Among big-city
> school districts, Detroit has come in last every year since 2012, according
> to the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. Only 27 percent of
> fourth graders are proficient in reading; 36 percent are proficient in math.
> In response to the sickouts, the mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, has
> ordered a districtwide inspection of each school. Last week, while touring
> the schools, he came upon a dead mouse in an elementary school.
> Mr. Snyder has pushed a plan to create a new school district to run the
> existing schools, spinning off the old one as a subsidiary that would exist
> solely to pay down debt. In his speech Tuesday, he urged lawmakers to pass
> that legislation.
> Last week, the Michigan Senate introduced legislation that would establish
> a nine-person school board, appointed by Mr. Snyder, a Republican, and Mr.
> Duggan, a Democrat, which would eventually hire a district superintendent.
> Many people in Detroit worry that it will not be enough to save their
> schools. They want a school board that will be elected locally, bringing an
> end to state-appointed emergency management. And they are calling for more
> immediate intervention to address the deteriorating state of school
> buildings.
> A spokeswoman for Mr. Snyder, who was also dealing with the public health
> crisis in Flint caused by an emergency manager’s decision to switch the
> city’s tap water source to save money, said he understood the frustrations.
> “Governor Snyder is working to improve academics and finances in Detroit
> schools,” said Laura Biehl, the spokeswoman. “Right now, the district pays
> a figure equal to $1,100 per child for debt service. That’s money that can
> best be spent in the classroom.”
> Last week, many Detroit schools were shuttered and empty because of the
> sickouts. Outside the Durfee Elementary-Middle School on the city’s west
> side, where heating problems have been so severe that the school has relied
> on portable heaters, a handwritten sign on the door announced “School
> Close.”
> At Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school that the Detroit Federation
> of Teachers said was ridden with rats and crumbling ceilings, parents said
> they were exhausted by the problems.
> Tanya Cox, who sends three of her children there, said there are 42
> students in her son Damir’s fourth-grade class. “With so many kids in the
> classroom,” she said, “I don’t think the teachers can teach.”
> Not everyone has been sympathetic to the teachers’ protest. “There is no
> excuse for the illegal teacher strikes that have closed dozens of schools
> in the past week,” an editorial in The Detroit News said last week.
> On Wednesday, the Detroit Public Schools sought a temporary injunction
> against more than two dozen teachers in response to the sickouts, arguing
> that they had deprived students of access to education.
> Michelle Zdrodowski, a spokeswoman for Detroit Public Schools, said in a
> statement, “These ongoing illegal actions chosen by teachers represent an
> extreme disservice to the more than 44,790 students and their families who
> today lost another day of instruction and were again inconvenienced or
> caused to lose wages due to these closures.”
> Many state legislators from outside Detroit have balked at having the
> state take on the school district’s substantial debts. Yet they are
> hesitant to allow the district to continue on a path to insolvency, given
> the level of urgency.
> “They’re in a dire crisis level,” said Camille Wilson, an associate
> professor of education at Wayne State University here. “On one hand, the
> state has a tremendous amount of responsibility to help with some financial
> relief, given that they’ve managed and controlled part of the system for
> many years now. On the other hand, I think the local people and the
> citizens should be allowed to play a role as well.”
> Last week at the Charles L. Spain school in Midtown, where Ms. Aaron
> teaches, staff members pointed out their building’s deterioration. In the
> gym, the air was filled with a stifling, moldy smell. The floors were
> buckled and partly ripped out, revealing a damp, black substance underneath.
> “You hear the water dripping?” said Lakia Wilson, the guidance counselor,
> nodding at the spot on the floor where water from the roof had accumulated
> into a cloudy pool. The day after a reporter and a photographer were given
> a tour of the building, health officials arrived at the school and blocked
> access to the gym with sheets of plastic, a teacher said.
> Andre Harlan, the gym teacher at the Spain school, said he had breathing
> problems that he traced to the air quality in the gym, which the school
> stopped using two months ago.
> Until further notice, gym class is held in the hallway.
> “There’s progress in Detroit,” Mr. Harlan said. “But not inside the
> schools.”
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