A 5-neighborhood group on the Northeast side of the City has sent me a questionnaire about where I stand.  Unlike some groups, they invited me and others to make unlimited responses, rather than requiring a 150 word limit, as so many groups do.  Y0u are often asked, in just 150 words, to sum-up what you think about an issue.  Basically, those folks who require such limitations usually really have little interest in getting to the nub of the question.  It’s just not worth their trouble to try to understand whatever the issue may be.  So stick with me, my answer runs for 13 pages, but I can not explain it in any less, because these folks asked some decent questions..

  1.  How many Detroit Public School Board meetings have you attended in the last three years?   None.    Last five years?  None.   Last 10 years?  None.
  2. What are your affiliations, if any, with Detroit Public Schools, the Education Achievement Authority, charter or private schools?   None, for the past 17 years, since Governor Engler pushed us aside in March, 1999 and the State took over, just 3 months after we were elected for another 4-year term.  Supposedly, we were still advisors until our terms ended on January 1, 2003, but they had absolutely no use for any of our advice.
  3. Describe any education related initiatives that you have been part of, including dates and your role in those efforts?

You will probably be sorry that you asked this question, by the time you get to the end of my answer.

1971:  Coalition to Reform Michigan Educational Financing:  This was an early two-year long, but unsuccessful effort, to change the formula for State aid to schools, to favor grossly under-funded districts like Detroit.  I chaired the Finance Committee of this State-wide effort, to raise the funds needed for this campaign.  At that time, I was the Head Grant-Finder for the City, was conversant with the State budgeting process, and was therefore very useful to the Coalition’s understanding and strategy.

1974-76:  Coalition for Peaceful Integration:  I worked with the Grandmont/Rosedale unit of this broader City-wide coalition to help assure a non-violent (unlike Boston) implementation of Judge Roth’s Deseg Order at the Vetal, Edison and Cooke Schools, and we did that.

1976-78:  As a member of the Rosedale Park Improvement Association’s  Board of Directors, I was charged with block organization.  That year, I identified and went to two households on each of our 59 block area, to ask them to become Block Captains.  I approached new neighbors, one black and one white on each block.  Before doing this, I had drafted over a six-month period a 140 page Manual to guide their efforts.  At that time, after a lot of White Flight, the neighborhood racial composition had become 40/60.  Of the 122 who bought-in to my request, 38% were black newcomers.   Many of them, both black and white, still serve today, even after some 45 years.  One of the things that I stressed in my manual was that adults on every block needed to keep track of the schooling of each of the children on their block, and to engage them from time to time about their education.  Children in our fast-moving society have no clue as to the true importance of their education, unless it is reinforced each day by the interests and concerns of their neighbors.  I also advocated linking parents of pre-school children into the cooperative nursery schools then thriving in our area.   In these, parents are expected to come-in and help with the program, and to begin a long-term intensive involvement in the education of their children.

1978-83:  Kathryn, my firstborn, began school at the Detroit Open School, an alternative DPS program located in the Telegraph/7-Mile area.  Parents were expected to come-in and help in the classrooms, or otherwise to do something significantly needed.  The Open School explicitly refused to teach to the test.  But our kids, year after year, crushed the test.  Embarrassed principals and administrators up the line, responded by trying to hamstring the school.  In response, the school organized a Liaison Committee to attend every School Board meeting and to flyspeck the agenda for anything calculated to trash the school.  I became an active member of that Committee.  Whenever something threatened us at the then Regional, and later at the Central Board meetings, we would summon some 200 plus angry parents and would face-down whatever challenged us.

1983 to 1987:  Because I attended every Board meeting, and sometimes asked some serious questions, Dr. Jefferson’s administration asked me to serve on the City-Wide School Community Advisory Council, which I did. In the meantime, the Open School, along with 12 other alternative schools had been placed under the direction of Ms. Aretha Marshall.  Ms. Marshall along with the Wayne County Intermediate School District, organized an on-going series of monthly  colloquium in which nationally-known school reform advocates were flown-in to confer with and advise us.  Out of these insights and associations grew a reform movement, which became known as the HOPE Campaign (Hayden, Olmstead & Patrick for Education).  I was a grassroots organizer of this initiative.  After the HOPE Team was sworn-in, I became their unofficial secretary, issue writer, and mentor.

1988-89:  Unfortunately, the Board member from out northwest area would not go along with the HOPE agenda, and also would not even meet to discuss it.  So, we mounted a recall effort against him.   It became the only successful recall effort in the City for the past 50 years.  Afterwards, the recall committee recommended that I be appointed to fill the vacancy, and so it was done.

1990-98:  I had to run to fill the unexpired term in February, 1990, which I did.  And I had to run to fill the next full term that August and November, which I also did.  During my 3 full and one partial terms on the Board, I chaired the Physical Plant, Finance and Audit Committees, and the Superintendent’s Evaluation Committee.  These were tumultuous and mildly successful years, but there was a steady drumbeat in the press for something far more robust.  Well, that succeeded in March, 1999, and we were swept aside, for a State takeover, which drove the District over 17 years into a bottomless pit.

2005:  My campaign managers in 1990 were Freman Hendrix, Jennifer Granholm, Nabil Leach and Mary Sue Schottenfels.  So, when the mantel was passed back to an elected board in 2005, Governor Granholm asked that I serve on the Transition Team, which I did.  I was co-chair of the Ethics Task Force.  As a part of that, I up-dated a proposal which I had previously made, but not successfully, during the 90’s, which is based upon the national Model Procurement Code.  Unfortunately, the new board reverted to the practices of the past, and ignored our proposal.   And that led right back to another State take-over.

2010 to the present:  I have written several letters to the editor about current educational issues, but neither of the papers found cause to print them, perhaps in part because I pointed-out that they were more often a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

2015:  I provided free legal advice to the Detroit Library Commission on how best to seek a renewal of its main source of revenue, the special library millage.  I drafted the millage language and a policy statement to all library employees on what they could and could not legally do in support of the millage.  The library is an extension of the Detroit Public Schools.  Both adult and student literacy is essential to the well-being of the City.  This effort was successful.

So, enough for this question.  If you want to know more about any of these events, please check my website.

4.  Did you endorse or assist the Board of Education, the former CEO, or any Emergency Manager on any projects?.  If so, please elaborate.

No, I did not.

5.  Have you run for public office before?  If so, please list the office and year.

Please see the answer to Question 3.  The only other public office that I have held was by appointment of the Wayne County Commission to the Charter provided office of Commission Counsel.

6.  What diplomas, certificates, or degrees have you earned and from what schools?

1961:  BA History and Sociology, University of Michigan, which included credits from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Cleary College, Wichita Falls, Texas; the University of Omaha, Nebraska; the University of Maryland Overseas Program, and Johann Goethe University, Frankfort am Main, Germany.

1966:  Juris Doctor from the Wayne State Law School.  At that time, one had to score in the top 10% of the class for this degree.  These days, they give it to everyone who graduates.

1970:  Certificate from the University of Wisconsin for a 4-week intensive residential program in the Advanced Study of Organizations.

1975:  Certificate from the National Center for Court Administration in Denver, Colorado for a 3-week intensive residential program in court management.

7.  Do you now or have you had any children enrolled in the Detroit Public Schools?  If so, please name the schools that they attended.

All three of my children attended the DPS Detroit Open School from K to 8.

My oldest daughter, Kathryn, graduated from Renaissance High in 1991.  She has been the office manager for three successful Silicon Valley dot-com start-ups, was a manager of the Golden Gate AIDs March, and was the utility person for Kids First, a non-profit which specializes in research on children’s issues.  She currently lives with her husband and our two granddaughters in Buffalo, N.Y, where she is the coordinator for the Buffalo Area Association of Non-Profit Fund-Raisers.  Coincidentally, she was a classmate and close friend of Alycia Humphries (now Meriweather) at Renaissance, and her house-mate along with three other girls from Renaissance on S. State Street at the University of Michigan.  We were all invited to Alycia’s wedding some 20 years ago.  We thought highly of her then, and even more highly of her since.

From age 12, my son, Elliot, aspired to become an NHL hockey player, and went to Catholic Central with that in mind.  Unfortunately, DPS has never had a hockey program, although the basketball coaches at Henry Ford High did their best to recruit him.  These days, he is probably the only hockey-playing hair stylist in Bloomfield Hills.

My youngest daughter, Lesley, graduated from the DPS Communications and Media Arts High School in 1997 as the Salutatorian.  That got her a full scholarship at Wayne State.  Back in the 8th grade at the Detroit Open School, a new group in town called the Mosaic Youth Theatre visited the school, and recruited her as a theatre tech.  So 4 years later, she chose Technical Theatre at Wayne, graduating in 2001.  With those skills, she did home improvement work for 2 years, and then went for a Master’s Degree in her field in Missoula, Montana.  There, she became the props manager for the Missoula Children’s Theatre.  Their 48 teams take children’s theatre to 2,000 locations each year in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and at armed forces bases around the world.

8.  What do you understand the role of a school board member to be?

Very good question, because it strikes at the heart of why I have tossed my hat into this ring.

Thirty years ago, I thought it was to become an activist in getting some important things done.  But, looking back 20/20, that was all wrong.  Yes, you do need to have some deep understandings of what needs to be done.  But, then, you need to select a Superintendent who has a proven track record of doing those things.   And, then, you must generally just get out of the way.   The more that you try to intercede, the worse that you tend to make things.  These intercessions only undermines the Superintendent and strengthens the notion that real change can be made for the top-down.  17 years of Emergency Managers should have totally trashed that theory.

The most important thing that you need to master, and communicate to your public, is a full and clear understanding of school finances.  While you need to be as optimistic as the situation allows, you also must take great caution to not raise expectations for things which are way beyond our means.   This is a delicate and slippery slope, because we will always be between a rock and a hard place for years to come, as we try to adjust our programs to the funds which are actually available.  If we are too pessimistic, we will drive students away.  But, if we make promises which we have no hope of keeping, we will get the same result.

This is very complicated stuff, and very few of the public will ever truly understand.  Let me be just a bit more specific:

Only 51% of our current budget is allocated for instruction; in a healthy district, that should be nearer 60%.  The rest goes for various kinds of “support services”.  The District currently uses 93 buildings for schools, and another 47 for support services.  33 of these school buildings were built in the past 20 years and are in fairly good repair for now.  For this, we floated almost $2 Billion in 40-year bonds, which maxxed-out all of our capital improvement borrowing ability, for at least another 15 to 20 years.   That means that the only way that we can keep these other 107 buildings in good repair is to take the funds from the State Foundation Grant.  Most of these buildings were constructed in the 1950s and 70s.  The District has not had an adequate building maintenance program in place since the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.  These buildings are falling apart, and there is no other money available to fix them for at least another 15 years.

I hope that I’m wrong, but I suspect that I am right-on.  To me, these existing bonds are like a roadside bomb, just waiting to happen.  This obligation is 5 times more than our annual budget.  They were issued during much higher interest rate times, and their payment depends upon revenue from a special capital improvement millage on Detroit properties.  Back when these bonds were issued, 90% of Detroiters were paying their taxes, and real estate values were rising rapidly.  Since 2008, real estate values have plummeted, and just over 50% of Detroiters are paying their taxes.   So, this revenue may not be enough to satisfy the bonds as they become due.  I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect that these bonds included a full faith and credit promise, which means that we will have to either take the shortage from our operating funds, or we will have to go to court for a judgement order to assess all Detroit property for the difference.  I am bothered by the fact that no one is talking about this issue.

For most of your time as a Board Member, you need to be actively reaching-out to find the extended families of parents who now have children in our schools.   You absolutely need to convince these folks that they must keep on top of the education of their more distant offsprings.  We now have at least 3 generations of parents who have had little or no pro-educational guidance or proclivities.  If they listen to the media, which they most probably do, they are given to think that education is just another of society’s consumer goods.  All they need to do is to criticize their children’s teachers, and all will be good.  Well, that kind of mind-set just translates into chaos in the classroom.

The ONLY time when real education takes place is when parents, teachers, and students at a specific local school RESPECT one another and are willing to intensively collaborate with one another.

The best thing that a School Board Member can therefore do is to personally reach-out to those older members of the extended families of our students.  These are the only people who have a half-way chance of making a difference.   Few of today’s parents will listen or respond positively to someone who is being paid to visit with or threaten them.

9.  What restrictions, if any, have been imposed on this new board that you agree with?  Disagree with?

Actually, I have no problem with any of the restrictions which have been placed by the Legislature on this new board.  Sure, I’m sure that some of our Legislators voted for these limitations with some malice, but that is beside the point.   These indeed are the crucial financial issues with which any serious board member will need to cope.   I fear that few of those who are running for the Board have any clue as to the import of these issues. Neither did any of the Emergency Managers of the past 17 years.  High hopes do not translate to real progress.  As I have tried to say, if you are not ready to face-up to and deal with the limited financial prospects that the District faces, then you will be a terrible board member.  Grandstanding on the unfairness of it all, may make you feel good, and may gain you support from folks who deeply resent State intervention, but it will do nothing positive to right-size and move the district forward.

10.  What actions did the school board take during the 2014-16 period that you agree with?  Disagree with?

Seriously, I paid no attention whatever to anything that they did, because I knew from my own experience between March, 1999 and January 1, 2003, that the “overseers” had no intention of listening to anything that the sitting board had to offer.  Yes, I do have an etching by Salvator Dali on the wall above my computer of Don Quixote charging forward on his horse, but I personally am not stupid enough to go there!

11.  What actions did you take to support or oppose those board actions?

None, and as I said above, it did not bother me one whit.  I have been around long enough to know when my voice can actually make a difference, and when its nothing more than a grandstanding waste of time.  This is not to say that I was taking no stance whatever during these times.  I wrote to the Free Press and News, and to the Governor’s supposed think guy, but none of them gave me one minute of time.

12.  Would you support the board authorizing any additional charter schools?  Why and why not?

For much of my working and voluntary life efforts, my job and my objectives was to change and improve one kind of organization or another for the better.  And I have always found that it is far far easier and more successful to start a totally new organizati0n, than it is to reform one that is well set in it’s ways.  That’s a sociological fact.  So, I am not opposed to new charters.

BUT, the DPS history with charters has not been at all outstanding.  There are endless institutional limits upon what could be achieved.  Large institutions, like the DPS, are extremely hard to change, when they don’t really want to change.  That, again, is a sociological fact.

Most non-DPS charters sing the same old false song:  Just send your child to us, and we, with the miracles of modern teaching technology, will send them back to you educated to your greatest expectations.   Well, teaching technology can make some small differences, but it takes the willing and respectful collaboration of a parent (or substitute parent) to make a really big difference.  And there is no way to get around this fact without a huge lot of dollars, which we have absolutely no prospects of ever getting.

So, I am amenable to one specific kind of charter, but be forewarned, that this kind of charter is not currently authorized by any existing law.

I would support a charter for a K-8 that requires that a parent or extended family member, come-in and help with the teaching or some other important task, for at least 40 hours each year.   To be more specific, that means coming-in for at least a half-day once a month, and to do so on a dependable schedule. That enables teachers to better plan and manage their classroom load.  It means that children behave positively, because they know that what’s happening in the classroom must be important, if mom and dad or other significant persons are willing and ready of be there.  This sets-up the conditions which make for an excellent school.  And no one is excluded for this school.  One way that a parent is able to perform their 40 hours of service is to transport to school the children of parents who have no such transport.

I think that this kind of charter would light the way for parents and their extended families all across the City, to fully realize that they have a very important role in the successful education of their off-spring.

13.  What do you believe that you can realistically do as a board member?

The only reason that I pitched my hat into the ring, is because I think I have a perspective that is woefully lacking in today’s public discourse about education in Detroit.  Whether or not I am actually elected is of little moment to me.  My aim is to try, as best I can, to change the general mind-set of this broader Detroit community as to what it ought to reasonably expect from its schools, and what each of us must be doing to make things really better.  If you read my thoughts as set forth on my website, and do some real thinking about them, then I will have done what I set out to do – and on a shoestring.

If I can loop you into actually studying and understanding my Procurement and Ethics Policy, then I will really feel like I have accomplished something!

14.  Who has endorsed or contributed to your campaign, or what endorsements or contributions to your campaign are likely, and which will you seek?

I am running my “campaign” on a mere shoestring.  I have told the folks who have financed and staffed my past campaigns that I am not asking them for even one dollar, but I am asking that they pass my thoughts on to everyone that they know.  I still have twelve 1′ X 4′ signs, and 64 lawn signs stored in my garage from past campaigns, which I propose to put back into service.  It cost me $100 to place my name on the ballot, and another $167 for my website.  I have done this out of my own pocket, which is not really much to personally invest in the future of our City, even when you are already 80 years old.   And of course, I have expended and will expend a lot of my time

I am not out pandering for endorsements.  I am just telling it like it is, and if a lot of folks agree with me and connect with my thoughts, then that is what there is, and really all that there is.

15.  Beyond platitudes, why are you running for the school board?

Personally, unlike most board candidates, I am not about “children first” because I simply “love children”.  I am more concerned about the future of the adults in this City, if we are unable to secure a good education for our children.  For 13 years, from 1970 until 1983, under Mayors Gribbs and Young, I was the Deputy Director of the Detroit – Wayne County Justice Coordinating Council.  We pumped $140 Million of federal grants into changing and improving the adult and juvenile justice systems.  But, one of the main things that you learn from all of this is that kids who do well in school rarely end-up caught-up in the criminal justice system.  If we just get it right this first time, then we do not end-up spending more on prisons than we do on schools.

Here then are my top nine priorities:

  1.  Get the State Legislature to prohibit and elected Detroit School Board member from running for any other public office for at least ten years.  Strip the most basic reason for anyone from the highly corrupting vending/political subculture in this City from running for the School Board.
  2. Weigh against having the Board divvy-up “school oversight” into a series of micro-managing committees.  Any merit of these committees is grossly outweighed by giving their chairs an easy way to put the squeeze on Board vendors.   Keep Board oversight to the Committee of the Whole.  Ask no questions which can only be answered by additional fact-gathering efforts at the schools.  Such questions only ramp-up the tendency of central “service” administrators to try and control the schools from the top-down, and steals away precious teaching time from teachers on the front line, who must gather and record the answers to all of these questions.
  3. Adopt a comprehensive policy based upon the national Model Procurement Code; delegate virtually all final contracting authority to the Superintendent, without any further Board intervention.  Board intervention typically adds an additional month on average to getting the schools what they need.  All major contracts over $750,000 and those over 2 years must by law go to the State Financial Review Board.  There is no good reason, therefore, for the Board to flyspeck these contracts.  Keep Board members totally out of the front-end of the contracting process, and out of all of the temptations that have misled past Boards.
  4. Staff an independent Audit Unit, which reports to the Board, to look for fraud and waste, but only after the fact.  (The Superintendent also needs a companion Inspector General, but the District should not have to depend upon the honesty of that group.)  Yes, this is expensive, but time has shown again and again that it is necessary.   White collar crime is actually one of the few kinds of crime that can be prevented, by conducting random, unexpected and independent audits.
  5. Select a Superintendent who has had a successful career in entrusting most decision-making and school-level expenditures to the local schools.  Avoid creating more top-down efforts to control local schools in the name of greater accountability.
  6. Spend most of my time as a Board member, on reaching-out and engaging all existing community institutions, and in engaging the extended families of our students to take a strong and pro-active role in their child’s education.  Reverse the present mind-set that education is just another consumer service, and that all you need to do to improve it is to become a critic.  Concentrate upon building enduring parent support networks, beginning with pre-school.
  7. New-Wave teaching techniques are forever oversold as the answer to all that ails us.   See that parents know that teaching techniques are not magic, and have big drawbacks when not reinforced from the home.  Parents must know that children learn much from one another, and that these relationships become more and more powerful the longer that they are sustained.  It is key to keep your child in the same school, with the same classmates, and the same teachers for the long haul.
  8. Assure that the District not only retains a balanced budget year-to-year, but also reserves a rainy-day fund equal to at least 6% of the annual budget for unforeseeable setbacks.   It is particularly disturbing to know that the District has lost almost all of its knowledgeable financial people, and that the current “balanced budget” was hatched by just a couple of whose who remain, but with little or no back-up data.
  9. Resist pressures to create politically popular, but unaffordable things, like new buildings, all-day pre-school, or unlimited wrap-around services.  Get real about the American economy.  For the past 30 years, middle-class Americans, who pay most of our taxes, have struggled greatly to just maintain their prior standard of living.  Firstly, the wife went to work.  Then, they each worked more and more hours.  And then, they borrowed against the equity in their homes, often ending-up deeply under water.  And now they are running-up more and more credit-card and student debt.   It is no wonder that there is such resistance to any kind of tax increase, because for the great majority of taxpayers, it means a serious cut in their own personal standard of living.   The kind of stuff being touted in the report of the Coalition for Detroit’s Children, is totally pie in the sky.  Back in the late 60’s, the income of middle Americans was steadily climbing, so folks were complacent with increasing tax loads, because the tax load took away about one-fourth of these growing improvements.  But those times are all gone, and it is irresponsible to lead folks to believe that there is financial relief right around the corner..  Yes, there is hope, but it mainly lies in the ability of parents and their extended families to face-up to the need to do things for themselves, and to ignore the empty promises of folks who are just seeking their votes for a sterling political career.


I’ve been in and around politics for too long.  When you as a voter have several choices as for whom to vote, like in this case, to vote for 7 out of 72, it means that you only vote for that fewer number about whom you are sure that you want to win.  When you go beyond that point, and start to vote for names that simply seem familiar or attractive, then you are actually casting a vote against those folks that you really know about and really wanted to win.   To put it another way, far too many voters cast their ballot for those names that seem to be more attractive or familiar.  And the candidates with these attractive names rarely measure-up to the attractiveness of their name.   So, “plunk” means stop voting when you no longer really know who or what you’re voting for!  If you have 7 votes, then stop once you have voted for the 1, 2 or 3 that you are sure about. Then, your vote will actually count toward making the difference that you wanted.

My Resume

Ben W. Washburn, 14600 Glastonbury, Detroit, MI  48223

Home Phone:  (313) 838-5049   Cell Phone which I only use when not at home:  (313) 330-7700  Email:

Web site:

PERSONAL:  Retired, with benefits, but still able, capable and concerned about the future of our City, and looking for options to make it better.  Married since 1971 to Paulette.  We have three children who attended DPS. All three attended the DPS Detroit Open School for K to 8.

Our oldest daughter, Kathryn graduated from Renaissance High in 1991, along with her close friend Alycia Humphries (now Meriweather).  They both went to U of M and shared a house on S. State Street with three other Renaissance classmates.  We attended Alycia’s wedding some 20 years ago.  We thought highly of her back then, and even more highly today.  Kathryn has been the Girl Friday for 3 successful Silicon Valley start-ups, an organizer of the Golden Gate AIDs March, and a fund-finder for Children First, a San Francisco non-profit which promotes research on children’s issues.  She now lives in Buffalo, N.Y. with her husband and our 2 grand children.  She is currently the coordinator of the Buffalo Association of Non-Profit Fund-raisers.

My youngest daughter, Lesley, graduated as Salutatorian in 1997 from the DPS Communications and Media Arts High School, and had a full-tuition scholarship to Wayne State, where she studied Technical Theatre.  After using those skills for a couple of years in doing home renovations, she went to Missoula, Montana to seek a Master’s Degree.  There, she ended-up for the past 8 years as the props manager for the Missoula Children’s Theatre, whose 48 crews bring children’s theatre to 2000 locations each year in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and at armed forces bases around the world.

From age 12, my son Elliot, was hot on becoming a professional hockey player, and went to Catholic Central, which has a strong hockey program. Elliot is and was dyslexic, as am I, and as was my father.  We hired a lot of tutors to get him through school, both at the Open School, and at Catholic Central.  With this help, and because of his hockey aspirations, he managed to graduate as the 267th GPA in his 267 graduating class.  But the average graduate at Catholic Central then scored a 26 on the ACT in 1995, whereas the average graduate at Renaissance scored a 19.   These days, he is about the only hockey-playing hair stylist in Bloomfield Hills.  OK, he sometimes cuts Verlander’s hair, but his hockey injuries will surely limit his ability in the coming years to stand on his feet all day.


1948 TO 1953:  Kentucky tobacco and sheep farmer.  On farms, you are expected to help with the field work from age 10 on.  There and in the agricultural vocational high schools, you learn how to do lots of stuff for yourself.

1953:  Worked that summer as a Steeplejack Apprentice in central Kentucky installing lightning rods on water towers, silos, barns, etc.  Thankfully survived four life-threatening accidents.  With the $832 that I earned that summer, plus a $250 Kroger Scholarship, I was able to pay my way through my Freshman year at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, where I posted a 4.0 GPA.

1954:  Worked that next summer in a safer job as a Teamster in a Cincinnati milk plant doing vacation relief work, sterilizing vats, making cottage and Philadelphia-type cheese, testing for butterfat content, loading trucks, and setting-up packaging machines.  But, all of my earnings that summer went to pay for my brother’s appendicitis operation, and I had to join the Air Force to get the GI Bill if I hoped to go back to college.

1954 to 1959:  Military intelligence operations specialist in covert operations in Europe and the Middle East.  I joined to get the GI Bill before Congress ditched it.  But, by the mere draw of a straw, this service changed my world perspective and my life forever.

1959-62:  I worked the rest of my way through college in Ann Arbor.  In addition to the GI Bill, I ran a fraternity kitchen (of which I was not a member), delivered laundry (Varsity Laundry Co.) and pizza (Cottage Inn), and maintained the landscaping of a big church on Washtenaw.  I worked 100 hours a week in the summer and 25 hours during the school year in order to make ends meet.  Fifty years ago, it was still possible for a young person with no other means, to work their way through college, even though it took me 8 years.  Today, that is largely impossible, without a lot of crippling student debt.

1962 to 1966:  Personnel Examiner for the Detroit Civil Service Commission, recruiting, testing and reclassifying engineers, chemists, foresters, veterinarians, architects, building tradesmen, water system and street maintenance workers, construction equipment operators, bus drivers and mechanics, police cadets, firemen and unskilled workers.  From this, you learn the nitty gritty details of what it takes to run a City and support operations for the school system.  In 1966, I was the lead examiner on reclassifying 3,000 employees in the skilled and semi-skilled trades, in order to enable compliance with the Public Employees Relations Act (PERA), which had just been passed by the Legislature in 1965, to enable public employees to unionize.  Evenings, I attended the Wayne State Law School, and graduated in 1966 with a Juris Doctorate.  Again, back then, the annual tuition was $252, and the City reimbursed me for the first $250.  So, I was able to get my degree over 4 years for just $8. out of pocket.  These days, students run-up $100,000 in student loans.

1967 to 1971:  I was the head grant-finder for the City in assuring that we were the first in line with our applications, as the Congress churned-out dozens of new programs after the Kennedy assassination, for Johnson’s Great Society initiatives.

1971 to 1983:  Deputy Director of the Detroit – Wayne County Justice System Coordinating Council under Mayors Gribbs and Young.  We administered a $140 Million grant program to improve public safety and the justice system, including implementation of:

*9-1-1 in Detroit and suburban police dispatch systems.

*The Detroit Emergence Medical System.

*A crash program in 1971 and again in 1979 to eliminate a run-away backlog in the Detroit Recorder’s Court.

*Successful on-going computerized case management systems in the Jail, Civil and Criminal Courts, Prosecutor’ Office, and Juvenile Justice System.

*Implementing communications, dispatch and crime-reporting statistical and analysis systems in Detroit and suburban police departments.

*Establishing Mini-Police Stations in Detroit.

*Establishing both a Detroit and Sheriff’s Police Academy.

*Establishing the One-Day, One-Trial Jury Service System.

*Establishing training programs and rotating appointments for indigent defense counsel.

*Making modifications to the Wayne County Jail to bring it into compliance with federal standards.

*Establishing successful diversion programs for first-time offenders, and Release on Own Recognizance to reduce jail overcrowding.

*Arranging the transfer of the Pre-sentence and Probation supervisory functions to the State Department of Corrections, because the City and County could no longer afford the cost.

*Obtaining State pick-up of a large part of court operational costs.

*Obtaining and facilitating a transition from a 27-member Board of Wayne County Commissioners to the first Charter County in Michigan.

1983 to 2009:  Commission Counsel, the Charter provided legal counsel and policy advisor to the Wayne County Commission.  I researched and drafted at least 95% of the county ordinances now on the books, as well as regulations and proposed charter amendments.  I aggressively defended the legislative powers of the Commission regarding oversight of the executive branch, budgetary control, and home rule powers.


1968-70:  Vice President, Detroit Jaycees, working to engage young downtown executives to take a more active role in civic service, with regard to urban planning, mass transportation, education, economic development, inclusive race relations, and local political issues.

1968-70:  I was a supportive activist in Council President Henderson’s Coalition Against Insurance Red-lining.

1971:  I was the Finance Committee Chair for a State-wide Coalition to Reform School Financing.  This was an early attempt to reform State school finance in order to provide distressed schools like Detroit’s with more State aid.  We failed, but we tried.  I have been involved in continuous efforts to improve Detroit’s schools for 45 years.

1974:  I took a local lead with the Coalition for Peaceful Integration after Judge Roth’s deseg order, in order to avert Boston-type outbursts.  We were successful.

1973-74:  Chair of the Public Safety Committee of a large group of Grandmont/Rosedale Residents for Better City Living.

1977 to 1983:  I was the main organizer of a Block Captain’s Network in Rosedale Park.  I assembled an extensive manual for this purpose which is still used as a model around the City. I went block by block to all 59 blocks in the neighborhood and recruited 122 new-comer families to this voluntary work.  38% were new black neighbors, many of whom still live here and are still active in the neighborhood.   In that manual, I stressed that the adults on every block needed to get to know the children on their block and to talk to them about their education.  Children need everyday reinforcement from the adults around them that school is a very important thing.

1980-84:  I joined the Liaison Committee at the Detroit Open School, which attended every school board meeting to make sure that there was nothing on the agenda meant to harm our school.   The Open School expressly did not teach to the test, but its students were always outstanding when tested.  Other principals and administrators were embarrassed by this comparison, and did all they could to hamstring the school.  We had to attend and scan every agenda, and then when needed to call-out 200 angry parents to face-down these threats, which we did again and again.  I have been there and I have done that, and I know that most institutional reflexes are about maintaining a status quo, and are rarely in the best interests of our children.

1984-85:  Co-Chair of the Detroit Open School Parent Body:  Over the summer, I visited each of the 260 families at the school to garner a solid promise from each to devote at least 40 hours per year to in-schoolroom or other needed help.  This one-on-one contact tripled participation.

1984 to 1989:  Member of the City-Wide School Community Organization of the DPS.  Because I was at so many School Board meetings, Dr. Jefferson invited me to become a member of this in-house advisory group.

1987-88:  Invited to take part in a Colloquium on Education in the 21st Century.  For 18 months, Aretha Marshall, the Director of Alternative Schools (the Open School was one of 13 across the City) and the Wayne County Intermediate School District flew-in the top-named school reformers of the nation, to present to us and confer with us.  Out of this, a reform movement emerged, known as the HOPE Campaign (Hayden, Olmstead and Patrick for Education).  I was a grass roots organizer of this campaign, along with a dozen others.  Once they were elected, I was the unofficial secretary, writer, and mentor for the group.

1989:  I was a core team member of a recall effort against our local school board member, who had resisted the HOPE agenda for no good reason and who even refused to meet and talk about it.  This was the only successful recall effort in the City for the past 50 years.  After the recall, the group recommended to the Board that I be appointed to fill the vacancy, and they did so.

1989 to 2003:  Member of the Detroit Board of Education, elected 4 times, mainly because I was willing to go door-to-door to thousands of homes for weeks on end to personally gain support.  All people respect one-on-one contact.  My first time campaign managers were Freman Hendrix, Jennifer Granholm, Nabil Leach and Mary Sue Schottenfels.   Even though I had been a ten-year appointee of Mayor Young, and even though he had no problem with anything I had done, he ran someone against me, and put 130 of his appointees out to the Primary polls on City-paid time to defeat me, basically because he could not control me.   I had more than 200 able volunteers behind me who thoroughly covered all 38 district polling places for all 13 hours, and we beat his guy, 58 to 42.

During my 4-term tenure, I served as Chair of the Physical Plant, Audit, Finance, and Superintendent Evaluation Committees.   I still know those top-down accountability roles inside-out.  Looking back, I am no longer a fan of top-down activism.  What we now need to do is select a Superintendent who has a proven track record as a bottom-up activator, and once selected, to mainly get out of the way, and leave most oversight to the use of a strong after-the-fact audit group.

1993 to present:  Member of the Christ the King Catholic Church Stewardship Commission, which oversees church finances and facilities maintenance.  Out of a 360 family parish, I muster some 120 volunteers each year to help with our annual garage sale fund-raiser.  But, again, this only happens with intensive one-on-one contact and encouragement.

2005:  At the end of the first State takeover in 2005, Governor Granholm asked me to serve on a Transition Advisory Task Force.  I co-chaired the Ethics Committee.  As part of that, I updated and revised a policy on procurement and ethics, which was based upon a National Procurement Code.  This code is now in use in 20 of our 50 states.  I know this code inside-out, because back in 1978-80, I was on the working group for the American Bar Association, which drafted this code.  I helped craft each word, phrase and section.   But the new board ignored it and went back to the same old ways, and that brought us a new series of Emergency Managers.

2012 to Present:  Active member of a five-neighborhood action group dedicated to obtaining a City Ordinance to enable neighborhoods to create by a special assessment district, a means to enhance neighborhood security, provide for street and sidewalk snow plowing, and mosquito abatement.  We have obtained necessary amendments in Lansing to the State authorizing Act, and have obtained an implementing City ordinance.  We are currently conducting a door-to-door campaign to obtain the buy-in of the 3,000 homeowner signatures needed to establish the special assessment district in our 5 communities.

2014 to present:  Revised my 1970’s Block Club Manual to address the needs of today’s neighborhoods.

2015:  As a volunteer, I legally advised the Detroit Public Library Commission on how best to seek a renewal of its operating millage.  I also drafted a policy which advised all library employees on what they could and could not legally do to promote the passage of the millage.  The millage renewal was successful.   The Library Commission is appointed by the Detroit School Board.  Adult and student literacy (reading skills) is one of our most important education objectives.

2013 to Present:  Member of the Board of Directors, and for the past 2 years, the Treasurer of MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength), a coalition of churches, mosques and synagogues dedicated to promoting public issues which are important to everyone, such as mass transit.  I have been active with this group since its inception in southwest Detroit and Downriver with Rev. Joseph Barlow’s Jeremiah Project around 1990.  Sorry to say, I was not on my game in promoting my educational perspectives, and our Education Committee was persuaded to follow the lead instead of an institutional coalition.   As you will soon gather from my website, I disagree fundamentally with that viewpoint.

But I only raise this point to say that I have not been resting on my laurels for the past few years.   I have been active in several civic initiatives.


BA, History and Sociology, University of Michigan, 1961, much of which was based upon previous credits from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Cleary College, Wichita Falls, Texas; University of Omaha, Nebraska; University of Maryland Overseas Program; and Johann Goethe University, Frankfort am Main, Germany.

Juris Doctorate, Laws, Wayne State Law School:  1966.  Today, everyone who graduates from a law school gets a Juris Doctorate, but back in 1966, only the top 10% of the class received this degree.

1970:  Certificate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Intensive four week residential program for the Advanced Study of Organizations.

1975:  Certificate from a two-week intensive residential program of the State Court Administrator’s Colloquy in Denver, Colorado.


Wrap Around Services are a Sticky Wicket

Everyone is pleading these days to provide more “wrap-around services” to students in need.  I have no problem as to the need.  But I do have a big problem with the abounding fuzzy thinking about how these services are to be paid.   They should under no circumstances be paid for from revenue collected for education, meaning from either the State Foundation Grant or the local education property tax.

If we relent to the crushing concern about the intensity of the need, and start to pay for these services out of the school’s operating funds, we will simply end-up unintentionally shifting this burden to the Foundation Grant.   That’s how this big squeeze plays-out among State budget-makers.  From their perspective, that means that they can cut-back on the existing State allocations for such things as child health care, drug abuse intervention, child protective services, job retraining, etc., because these things can now partly be provided from the Education Foundation Grant.  The Foundation Grant is already woefully inadequate for distressed areas, and this will only compound that problem.

To the extent that we can stretch the guidelines for providing universal free lunches, and can obtain improved dental and health care from other sources, I’m all for that.   But we should never raid the Foundation Grant to amplify those efforts.  Yes, if we need to use Foundation Grant money to install a washer and dryer in the shower rooms, for kids who come to school in soiled clothes, I can live with that.   That’s a minor, but justifiable expense.  But, to try to address the full array of family and household needs which stem from poverty, like water, heat, electricity, and food,  from the Foundation Grant, I can’t live with that.  Somewhere, you have to draw a permanent line and add cement to the sand.


This morning, August 21st, I read Nancy Kaffer’s editorial piece:  To Fix Michigan Schools, We Must Fund Them.  Someone has been saying that same thing for at least 40 years, and it hasn’t happened.  Why not?  I would say mainly because the average taxpayer has seen their real income slip again and again over that time.  You can’t get any more blood from a turnip.  More taxes for education is a sure-fire non-starter.

To explain:  The only way that most American households have been able to half-way maintain their lifestyle over the past 35 years is:

  1.  By having the wife and mother go to work full-time.
  2. Then by both breadwinners working more and more hours.
  3. Then by borrowing against whatever home equity they may have.
  4. And then by running up more and more high-priced credit on their credit cards and student loans.

There are no more options to bail them out.  When you ask folks who are caught between a rock and a very hard place, for more tax money, for whatever reason, the answer is going to be a resounding “NO WAY”.

Under these circumstances, it is irresponsible for Kaffer to call for more money.  If the Free Press is touting something, many readers will assume that it must therefore be feasible, and that they can just sit on their hands while they wait for it to occur.  That’s means becoming more a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

Kaffer seems to have the mindset of the 1960s.  But, back then the average income of the American family was going-up at a rate of 6% each year, and most folks were then therefore willing to share a part of their blessings with others who were less fortunate.    But that changed in the early 80s with trickle down economics, in which middle income people were pressed more and more and more to just maintain their existing lifestyle.

Today’s seeming shift in political will, is therefore actually pretty simple.  If we really want to improve outcomes in the Detroit Community District, then we are going to have to do it by ourselves.  Yes, there are a lot of folks who will object that this just plays into the hands of racists and that it is absolutely unfair.  And, yes, I would agree with that.   But, at the end of the day, if we just simply sit on our hands, we will surely regret it down the way.

What do I mean by “the corrupting vending/political complex”?

I have been there.  I have watched this scenario play out again and again.  And in the end, it corrupts the district from the top to the bottom.  What this means is that whatever School Board that you choose, it has to be squeaky clean from day one, or the disease will dribble down to the whole system.

Here’s how the real “hustle” plays out:

Folks who have other bigger political ambitions begin their ambition by running for the School Board.  The School Board is authorized by law to set-up it’s own internal structure, by adopting bylaws for this purpose. Again and again, those members with bigger ambitions, which are usually a majority of those elected, choose to set up a structure which enables them to milk their position so as to build a war chest for their next stepping stone.

Firstly, they agree to and enact bylaws which empower the Board President to determine what committees are needed and to appoint all committee chairs.

Behind closed doors, they then negotiate with those members who want to become President of the Board, and in exchange for their support to become President, to appoint them as chair of a committee which has control over the approval of many of the bigger contracts.

Then, those vendors who know how this game is played, wine and dine these Board Members who have significant contract approval powers.  No one ever asks outright for a quid pro quo, which means something specific for something specific in return.   That’s a crime.   But this usual dance falls short of being a provable crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and most of the players know how to do this dance.  This dance has gone on for decades, and most of those in the vending and political arenas know how to do the real “hustle”.

But school staff all down the line know when this stuff is going-on, and begin to wonder when their turn will come….  It communicates all down the line that no one really cares about educating children.  It’s all about yourself and doing for yourself.

Then, there is also a raft of folks who hang around Detroit politics and try to find an inroad for themselves.  Even with folks who run and come on the Board with good intentions, these folks stroke their egos, and often convince them that they have great political futures just ahead, all the time hoping that they can land a spot on that gravy train.   And time and time again, potentially good people get sucked into this muck.

And, there are plenty of vendors who rely not upon their performance to get more work, but upon whom they can gain as their champions, again by stroking egos and doing small favors, which in many cases just leads to doing bigger and bigger favors.   When a vendor has some champions on the Board, they don’t have to worry about whether or not the schools get what they need when they need it.   And so the schools often get shortchanged and ripped-off.

Now, to really “step on” and trash a monster sacred cow:  minority contractor preference practices.  Over the years of my employment at the City and the County, I was always an advocate for providing bidding preferences for both women-owned and minority contractors.   And in both of those circumstances, the results, while unfortunately not very significant, were not especially harmful to the best public interest, mainly I think, because there is a distinctive divide between the executive and legislative functions in our City and County governments.  But, there is no such divide in the case of School Boards.  The Superintendent is never totally independent of the Board.  He or she is hired by the Board and can be fired by the Board.  And when Board members intervene in the Superintendent’s decisions on contracting, the outcomes are rarely in the best interests of Detroit’s citizens and children.

There is a whole raft of these  “vendors” who add absolutely nothing to a contract, other than to delay and complicate its performance, which means that the schools which need the product or service have to wait for it weeks longer than expected.   What these folks usually do, is to line-up a vendor, who is not eligible for the set-aside program, to actually provide the needed service or product, and reap the mark-up from that vendor’s price.  This does not in fact assist them in becoming a more viable vendor in the marketplace, because they have performed no service which has any value in that marketplace.   All they do is milk the set-aside program for a few dollars, and slow-up (and sometimes totally foul-up) the process of getting the schools what they need when they need it.  Worse yet in some cases, because the set-aside program often enables them to be paid before delivery, they pocket the money and fail to pay the actual vendor, and nothing is ever delivered.  And then, the District’s only option is to sue them in civil court, where they are highly unlikely to be collectible.   The District then runs-up legal costs and the schools end-up with zilch.

BUT, in Detroit, Set-Aside Programs have become sacrosanct among well established institutions like the NAACP, and Detroit’s children just have to suffer with them.

Worse yet even, this whole sacrosanct mindset sets-up Board Committee Chairs with a potent added weapon with which to befuddle those bidders who still come in below that of the set-asiders.  All of a sudden, the Committee Chair wants to investigate their past hiring practices, and begins to expect that they should sub-contract a part of their performance to some set-aside firm.   Magically, all of this concern waxes away as soon as they have made a hefty donation to the Chair’s war chest.

Bottom Line:  In the case of the Detroit Community Public Schools, I think that we just have to set “set-asides” aside as a major priority, and instead to concentrate upon getting our schools exactly what they need, and as fast as they need it.  The administration of “set-asides” can become extremely expensive, sometimes doubling the cost of the awarded contract.  We have to delegate this expectation to the Superintendent and to stand behind the Superintendent when other institutions in the community are off marching to a different drum.  We should indeed do “set-asides” when it costs nothing to do so, but we should never expend education dollars for a program which benefits some other sector of our City at the expense of our children, no matter how much it may be needed for those non-educational purposes!

In 2005, as a member of the Ethics Committee on Governor Granholm’s Transition Task Force, I drafted a proposed Procurement and Ethics Policy for the Detroit Public Schools, which was presented to that newly elected Board.  This was an up-date of a proposal which I had presented to the Board back in the late 90’s.   At that time, 9 of the 11 board members were on-board to adopt this policy.  We had more than 20 community meetings to present it and gather feed-back, which was all positive.  But Governor Engler still shoved us aside and took over the district, before it could be adopted.

It is true that this policy is 72 pages long, which is far longer than most voters can tolerate reading.  But public procurement is an extremely complicated undertaking.  This policy was based upon a national Model Procurement Code, which has been implemented in more than 20 of the United States.  It mirrors federal practice.  It is taught in every competent business school.   There are thousands of public purchasing agents around the country who are familiar with it and who have expertise with its implementation.  In fact, it was developed by the American Bar Association back in 1979/80, and Detroit was one of the four local jurisdictions used to formulate it.  And I was then the designated person in Detroit City government, who worked with the ABA for some 18 months in formulating this Model Code.  That’s why I am so conversant with it, and so clearly understand the impact and purpose of each word and phrase in the Model Code.  The policy itself is only about 40 pages long, but the proposed policy includes about 32 pages of explanatory notes, so that ordinary people can understand why each of its requirements are needed.  I will write a blog in the near future to summarize and explain this means of bringing speed, transparency, and integrity to the purchasing system.

Back in 2011, Emergency Manager Roy Roberts adopted a purchasing policy, which also runs 40 pages, and which is still the district policy.   It includes many of the features of the Model Procurement Code, but not all of them, and not of some of the key parts.








  1.  Get the State Legislature to disqualify anyone elected to the Detroit Community School Board from running for any other public office for ten years after the last time that they are elected to the Detroit Community Schools Board.  Strip the most basic motivation for folks who are within that highly corrupting political and vending subculture of the City from seeking a board seat.
  2. Keep the newly elected Board from divvying-up school “oversight” into several micro-managing committees.  The merits of such committees are greatly out-weighed by the fact that they provide committee chairs with an easy way to put the squeeze on District vendors to fatten the war chest for their next stepping stone.  Keep any Board oversight to the Committee of the Whole.  Don’t ask and expect answers to questions which only trigger and then seemingly justify more top-down intervention from central service offices, and more lost time to teach at the local school.
  3. Adopt a comprehensive purchasing and ethics policy, based upon the National Model Procurement Code.  Delegate most final contracting authority to the Superintendent, without any further Board intervention, other than after-the-fact audits.  Keep Board Members mostly out of the contract-letting process, and out of all of the temptations and distractions which that would surely bring.  (During the State take-overs, the Board has been divested of the power to approve contracts.  Based on the past abuse of that power and its corrosive effect all down the ranks, the new Board must voluntarily stay-out of most of the up-front contracting process.)  Yes, Michigan law requires the Board to approve any contract for more than $23,000.  But the law also allows the Board to delegate that authority, so long as it also provides an effective set of guidelines and requirements for the exercise of that delegated authority.  History shows that delegation with such conditions is the absolute better choice.  Get our schools what they need as fast as it is needed.  Keep the Board out of that process, because it slows-up most buying by at least a month.
  4. Establish a competent, well-staffed, and independent Audit function, which is directly responsible to the Board, to seek-out fraud, waste and favoritism.  The Superintendent should also have a robust Inspector General to safeguard his or her interests, but the District should not have to depend alone upon that unit to maintain and assure honesty down the ranks.  Yes, this is expensive and redundant, but experience has already shown that not everyone can be totally trusted.  Combined with explicit requirements to document buying decisions, white collar crime is one of those few kinds of crime that can be prevented by the use of thoroughly random and independent audits.  Those who doctor the records to cover their tracks usually hang themselves.  It is the phony documentation that trips-up most frauds.
  5. Select a Superintendent who has had a successful career at entrusting most decision-making and school-level spending to the local school.  Avoid creating and reinforcing any more top-down efforts to command and control what happens at the local school.  Good schools take an enormous collaborative effort by teachers, parents, students and others, who respect one another, and who stick with one another for the long haul.   This cannot be dictated from the top-down.  Make the right choice from day one, and stick with that person through thick and thin for the long haul.  Keeping the Superintendent on a short leash is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
  6. Spend at least 50% of my time as a Board Member on reaching-out and engaging all existing community institutions, and especially the churches, to engage parents and to coach them in taking a strong and pro-active role in their children’s education.  Turn-around the existing and long simmering community mindset that education is just another consumer service, and that all a parent really needs to do is to be a critic of their children’s teachers, or to jerk their children out of a school whenever conflicts arise.  Concentrate upon building enduring bonds and ties, and mutual parent support networks, beginning especially with pre-school.  Concentrate upon recruiting outside efforts to build strong neighborhoods around each of our neighborhood schools.
  7. New-Wave teaching techniques have been forever oversold as the answer to all that ails education.  Make sure that parents and their extended families know that teaching technology is not magical.  It has severe limitations when not consistently and continuously reinforced from the home, and especially when teaching dollars are tight.  Make sure that parents understand that much learning results from close bonds and ties with classmates over the long haul.  It is extremely important to keep your child in the same school, and with the same teachers for that long haul.
  8. Assure that the District not only maintains a balanced budget, year-after-year, but also reserves a rainy-day fund for unforeseeable setbacks.  The currently approved budget was hatched by just a few inexperienced staff members.  It could just be a train wreck waiting to happen.
  9. Refuse to relent to popular pressures to create and sustain unaffordable programs like all-day Kindergarden, new buildings, and unlimited wrap-around social services.   Get real about the American economy, and it’s limited possibilities.  Ignore the empty promises of State and Federal politicians. Realize that there is hope, but that it mainly depends upon the ability of parents and their extended families to face-up to the need to do things for themselves.   Yes, it takes guts and sacrifice.  But if you just sit on your hands and believe in political fantasies, someday, you will surely regret it.
  10. Be relentless in calling-out and exposing anyone who makes empty promises and predictions of easy success.  Serious educational results take tremendous collaborative efforts on all sides.  Charter schools are not yet a better option, even though it ought to be easier and more feasible to build a great school from scratch, that to turn-around one that has sunk into a dismal funk.   The Detroit Community District is authorized to create charter schools, but so far, has not been very imaginative and pro-active in doing so.

Troubling Impressions from the First School District Briefing of School Board Candidates

On August 1st, Judge Rhodes, the Governor’s Transition Manager, and Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather, gave us candidates for the new Board an overview of District status.

Firstly, the District is to be commended for doing this.  It is a first.

Secondly, be forewarned, that I may be somewhat biased with regard to the Interim Superintendent.  She was my oldest daughter’s classmate at Renaissance High and they were housemates at the University of Michigan.  We all attended her wedding some 20 years ago.  We thought highly of her then, and even more so now.

But as a former Board Member, who served as Chair of Committees on Physical Plant, Finance, and Audit, I left the session with more doubts than comfort.

“We are beginning this new district with a balanced budget.”  But, it appears that there is no detailed data to back-up the budget estimates, because nearly all of the finance staff had left or had been terminated earlier-on, and there were very few people left to prepare this budget. The Finance Director has had years of experience reviewing school district budgets in the mid-state.  But in my mind, Detroit is likely to be a lot different than the average district.  There are very few experienced budget control staff to monitor the week-to-week implementation of this spending plan.  Yes, the State Financial Review Commission (FRC) has approved of this budget, but how much do they know?  Darrell Burks, who was the District’s Finance Director, is on the FRC, but his knowledge is now 20 years old.  (And so, of course is mine.)  But I did not leave feeling very assured that the District can avoid yet another setback.

Do be assured that maintaining a balanced budget is critically important.  Repeated budget crises sap efforts and morale in all parts of the district and especially in the classroom.  True balancing decisions may well mean further sharp cutbacks, until a workable balance is achieved.  Elected officials (and candidates) generally have a very hard time of facing-up to that need.

“We don’t have much money for innovation, but we have reached-out to our staff for new ideas, and we will be starting 7 new Montessori kindergarten classrooms at 3 locations in September.  These teachers are highly enthusiastic, because they have seen their own children benefit from the Montessori approach.  They were more than willing to give-up their summer vacation, in order to attend intensive training in the Montessori technique.”   I did not hear any immediate kickback in the room from any of the candidates, but it is inevitable down the road:

“Montessori is a middle-class orientation to education.  It’s a code-word for discrimination against poorer people.  It will mainly just attract middle-class parents and will result in more class segregation in the district.”

This kickback is inevitable, because waging class war is such an effective means of gaining votes in a City in which 80% of the students qualify for a free breakfast and lunch.

Judge Rhodes asserts that any decent Board Member must be a Trustee for Detroit’s children, but suggests no serious means of defusing corruption of the Board by the long-standing and corrupting political and vending subculture in the City.

The Judge further asserts that Board Members must give-up talking about “them vs. us”, if any progress is ever to be made in reforming State-wide school financing.  He is right, of course, but once again, he makes no suggestion of how to stop that talk.  That talk will never stop so long as anyone can launch a lucrative political career by fanning the flames of racial and class antagonism, by first running for the Board in order to get a foothold on next gaining some better compensated office.

If there is just one small thing that State Legislators could do to help improve the Detroit Public Schools, it would be to prohibit anyone who is elected to the Board from seeking any other public office for at least 10 years after being elected to the Board.  That would effectively keep these seats from being exploited to finance anyone’s higher political ambitions.  And this needs to be done with immediate effect before November 8th, if it is to impact this re-start.

School administration is locked into a no-win corner.  In order to compete with the false promises of the charter schools, it thinks that it has to invest big dollars and efforts to put it’s best foot forward, and to be up-beat and enthusiastic about the future.   But, this also has costs in both dollars and longer-term credibility that the District can not afford, because there are numerous bumps in the road ahead that no one seems to be taking into account.

But, before going into any of those glitches, let me layout the core of what I think has gone so wrong, and what we together can do about it.

Most of what we hear in the news media and from “community leaders” is deeply flawed.  But, they and most listeners accept it without ever thinking about it, most often, because they would simply like to believe it.  It sounds like it will make their life easier and more predictable.   Stuff like:

  1.  “Education is just another consumer good; all we need to do is give parents a choice, and the marketplace will provide a solution.”
  2. “Just send your child to us, and we have the technical expertise to educate them the way you want.”
  3. “Society (other people)(the village) OWES your child a sound education.”
  4. “You and your child have a Constitutional right to be provided with a sound and free education.”
  5. “We must have much better accountability, from both the DPS and the charter schools which operate within the City.”
  6. “The whole future economic rebound of the City is largely dependent upon the creation of an outstanding school system.”

Most of this stuff is fanciful, misleading, and totally warped.  I will come back to each of these points in a later blog.  For now, I will limit my points to my reactions to the August 1st presentation.

Most simply put, a sound education takes a large group of parents, teachers, and students, who actually respect one another, and who collaborate intensively with one another over an extended period, say 8 years.   So long as you keep your eye fixed upon these key relationships, you can create both better and very good schools.   But there are dozens and dozens of institutional issues which can distract you from cleaving to that core reality, which have little to contribute to making schools better.

For example:  In her brief remarks, the Interim Superintendent advised us that every district employee is expected to become an Ambassador for the betterment of the District, to become aware of numerous great things going-on in the schools, and in placing a positive spin on what the community thinks about the District.   This comment comes directly out of the recommendations of a Transition Team Report which was conducted last Spring.  In that report, a group of outside and inside public relations consultants, better known as “spin-doctors”, recommended that the District undertake a “robust” public relations campaign to overcome all of the typical negative stories that may appear in the media.

Well, here’s my take on that:

Firstly, parents most care about what is happening with their own children.  They don’t care much about any other happenings in the District, which don’t immediately affect them.   All available resources need to be concentrated upon what is happening in the classroom.  Those folks in the ranks who championed the appointment of Alycia Meriweather as Interim Superintendent did so mainly because she had proven herself to them in past years as a honest and reliable peer resource.   It is one thing to ask everyone to stand on their own two feet and to do the best that they can to support the District.  It is quite another thing, however, to “expect” it, “or else”.   That’s a “top-down” attitude, which is more likely to be resented, because it skips the need for a mutual respect.

Secondly, the media is not much fooled by “robust” public relations campaigns.  They deal in negative stories precisely because that is what the public is most concerned about, and not because they have an axe to grind with the District.   Whatever we do, we simply have to live with that. We can not afford the efforts of spin-doctor opportunists, who will also demand that they be in control of every word said to the media by any school district employee.   That kind of thought control just further aggravates the establishment of critical trusting relationships between the central services and the neighborhood schools.

Thirdly, this is not to say, however, that I buy into much of what the media latches onto, in their misguided thought that they are “serving” the best community interest. Most often, their attention is captured by the self-interested opinion of some other significant institutional stakeholder. They are not very dependable any more for keeping their hand on the pulse of the community; in today’s highly competitive multimedia world, they do not have the resources to do that effectively.  Their coverage and their understandings are therefore superficial at their best.

In response to the Transition Team Report, the District now proposes to add a School/Community Liaison to the staff at each of our 93 schools, and also to increase interdiction by security officers to deal with truancy.  Things like this have been done before, and they are totally ineffective.  No one responds positively to this kind of intervention.   Unless one has an up-close and personal relationship with a problem parent or family, you have no serious means of changing any of their conduct, attitudes, or student outcomes.

That’s why I say that the only workable answer to such interventions lies within the congregations of our churches.  The very young, poor and struggling parents of most of our students are not very likely to belong to a church.  BUT, their older extended family is very likely to belong to one of our City’s thousands of churches.  These folks can have a maximum impact upon their younger family members, if they are provided with a real-world orientation by their Pastors and School Board Members as to what it takes to effectively educate a child.  School Board members should expend more than half of their work-hours (at least 500 per year) exhausting this resource.  (More explicitly, that’s 50 Sundays X 4 hours, plus 50 Wednesdays X 3 hours, plus 50 Saturdays X 3 hours.)  Seven Board Members X 500 hours equals 3,500 hours.  That is pretty much enough to reach each and every church and pastor in the City each year, and to begin to make a real grassroots difference in the community understanding of what it really takes to build a solid and effective school system.   If you can’t make that commitment, then you should not be on the School Board!

“We are proud to have the only certified school district police department in the State of Michigan!”  The head of the department assured us that our students are safe and in good hands.  He was proud to report that reported crime in our schools had decreased by 15% over the past 6 years.  In a Transition Team Report last Spring, the heavily police executive staffing of that part, recommended expanding the District Police Force from $6 Million per year to $10 Million per year.   Here again, I have my doubts.  For 13 years, from 1970 until 1983, I was Deputy Director of a City/County agency which applied $140 Million to reforming various aspects of the justice system, including crime reporting and policing.  I have to wonder, if reported crime is down 15% over the past 6 years, but student population has dropped 35% during that time, doesn’t that mean that actual crime per student has increased about 20%.

More than this, as a person schooled in sociology, I have to wonder whether any middle or high school which has more than 400 students can actually be expected to be safe and effective.   Many juvenile justice system studies have shown that once the population of an institution exceeds 400, where staff and inmates can no longer know one another personally, that the staff loses all control and effectiveness of the learning climate.  Rather than pumping more and more dollars into increased security, I think that we need to be down-sizing our troubled high schools to a size where staff is stable, and where everyone knows and respects everyone on a first name basis, and in pumping those security dollars into more educational staffing.  The main counter argument is that:  Because of relentless news stories about school crime, parents are afraid to send their children to DPS schools, and that that is a serious drain on potential State Funding from the Foundation Grant.  So, we must plow ever more funds into providing more security staff.

In general, based upon my past experience, our schools are 20 times safer than our streets.   While some crime occurs in our schools, 20 times more occurs after our students leave their schools for the day.  Base-line:  Isn’t the cost of in-school security being grossly over-promoted to the detriment of our educational programs?  Let’s get real.  If we have to have added security in our schools, shouldn’t we just hire more teachers who are retired police officers, and who pull double duty?  My youngest daughter’s best teacher at the Communications and Media Arts High School in the late 1990s was a retired Detroit Police Officer pursuing a more satisfying career as a teacher.  I don’t suggest arming teachers who have never served as law enforcement officers.  But, I do suggest that we should be actively recruiting teachers who have already made a career as a law enforcement officer, in order to do something both effective and practical to make our schools just a bit safer.  And, I also suggest that we do a lot more to convince parents that our schools are a whole lot safer than the streets.

The Buildings Director was especially upbeat: “We have responded to the City inspections, and just about all of the punch lists have been resolved. Our 93 schools should all be ready to open in September.”  Apparently, this was accomplished with just $5 Million from the $150 Million State Transition Funds.   I am astonished that these buildings could be up to snuff, after having been neglected for 80 years.  As a rule of thumb, major maintenance of a building takes 2% per year of the cost of building it from scratch.  When you defer those needs, especially roofs, the cost actually goes up, because the leaks cause other damage to floors, walls and other parts.

Judge Rhodes talked about the need to hold the Governor’s feet to the fire with regard to a commitment to add another $50 Million to the Transition Fund, for building maintenance needs.   That is just 1% of the $5 Billion sum estimated by a Barton Mallow Study done in the mid-90’s, to bring our school buildings up to modern standards, and that was in 1995 dollars. Yes, we were talking about 260 buildings then rather than the 140 now in use, and some of those were much older than the current inventory.  But, clearly, $50 Million is just a drop in the bucket.

In the case of Detroit, State Emergency Managers and Reform Boards have maxxed-0ut the levy of additional property taxes for building improvements, by building a bunch of new buildings which serve less than 20% of our student body.  It will take another 15 to 25 years before those bonds are paid off, and we can ask for another capital improvement millage.  Meanwhile, the only means of keeping our buildings in good repair is to take funds from the Foundation Grant.  This makes being stuck between a rock and a hard place seem like a lark.

It appears that District administration still has its head in the sand and is grossly underestimating the challenges which lie ahead.