Christopher Klaver, Gongwer, January, 20 2016 — While headlines for years have been on Detroit Public Schools’ debt and academic performance, the real battleground over a reform plan might be the ease with which one can add and remove school desks in the city. At a forum Wednesday sponsored by the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, there was much discussion about the financial state of the district and how it came to be.
But the most heated exchanges came over the number of schools in the city and whether there should be any control over that number.
Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, essentially argued that opening the city to any and all possible options would ensure a quality education for Detroit students.
Dan Varner, chief executive officer of Excellent Schools Detroit, countered there are already some 30,000 more choices in the city than there are students to make them.
Mr. Varner, who had also been a member of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, said the Detroit Education Commission that was a part of both that group’s and Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to address education in the city was necessary to begin to control the number of excess schools.
The commission, as envisioned in both plans, would have the authority to close underperforming schools as well as control opening and location of new schools within the city.
Mr. Naeyaert, though, said the commission had one goal: “It’s only goal is to suppress charter enrollment and prop up DPS 2.0 enrollment,” he said, referring to Mr. Snyder’s plan to split the district and separate current debt from operations. “There’s no reason to have a different set of rules on one side of Eight Mile than another.”
Mr. Varner said, as a charter supporter, “I have never heard more rubbish in my … f—ing life. … There are amazing charter schools in this country and we could have some in Detroit. That’s the point of this thing. I’m tired of lies controlling this debate”
Mr. Naeyaert said that no charters had opened in the current school year was proof that the market was controlling itself, to which Mr. Varner replied there were three scheduled to open in the upcoming school year.
An angry reply from one of the university officials corrected him that only one was scheduled to open (“That one we don’t need,” Mr. Varner said) and that the city needed more quality schools.
Mr. Naeyaert admitted that many of the charter schools currently in the city are poor quality.
But he also said charters should not be the only schools to close. “We’re waiting for the first traditional public school to close for poor performance,” he said.
Click here to download GLEP’s powerpoint presentation at the IPPSR forum on DPS.