Michigan Governor replaced Robert Bobb with another corporate 'manager' as overseer of Detroit Schools

Robert Bobb, the controversial Broad Foundation pick to oversee Detroit's public schools as its "Emergency Financial Manager", is leaving after a little more than two years on the job. Bobb has been replaced with another corporate type, Roy S. Roberts, this one from General Motors. Both are African Americans.

Robert Bobb (left) and Jennifer Granholm (the former Michigan Governor who appointed him the Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager, in a photo from the Detroit Public Schools website. Granholm appointed Bobb then ignored the corruption that followed. Some critics charge that the Bobb regime was one of the reasons Detroit Democrats didn't turn out in large numbers in the November 2010 election, thereby turning state offices over to Republicans.Under Michigan law, the governor has the right to appoint these "managers" with powers over all local government affairs where cities or other public entities, such as school districts, are facing a fiscal emergency. A new Michigan law will give Roberts dictatorial power, including the power to break union contracts.

"Roberts will have more power than Bobb," the Detroit New story reports. "Under a new emergency manager law passed in March, managers can terminate union contracts, suspend collective bargaining for five years and strip local governmentsof much of their power. Supporters say the law makes it easier to save troubled districts and cities before they become unmanageable. But opponents contend it's part of a national trend to weaken unions."

But while the Detroit News story gives the corporate media version of the current struggles in Detroit, other voices going back more than ten years have presented readers with a completely different version of both the problems of Detroit's public schools and of Robert Bobb (and his predecessors in power over Detroit's schools since 1999, when the first takeover of Detroit's schools was done by Michigan's governor.

The two reports are presented here in contrast to one another.


Snyder taps Roy S. Roberts as DPS emergency manager, By Leonard N. Fleming. The Detroit News. From The Detroit News. Last Updated: May 04. 2011 1:37PM.

Detroit— Gov. Rick Snyder today will name Roy S. Roberts, a former vice president of General Motors Corp., as the next emergency manager of the troubled Detroit Public Schools, sources close to the governor have confirmed to The Detroit News.

The offer was made by Snyder this morning to Roberts, but a formal contract has yet to be signed, sources say. The governor will be introducing Roberts at a news conference at 2:30 p.m. at his office at Cadillac Place.

Roberts will succeed Robert Bobb, who has served at the district's financial manager since March 2009. His contract officially ends in June, but he leaves amid controversy regarding his rigid but fast-moving approach to change the school system through a series of financial reforms and school closures.

"I'm extremely excited because I can't think of anything that I can do in the state of Michigan that could be more meaningful and lasting and positively impacting the students in the Detroit schools system," Roberts said this afternoon.

Roberts, who spends part of his time at a home in Arizona, was honored this week by the Detroit Institute of Arts, which renamed one of its galleries of contemporary African Art for him and his wife, Maureen, after they contributed more than $1 million to the museum. He was also honored last month for his longtime civic service to the Detroit community by the Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan.

"He's exceptional," said N. Charles Anderson, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Detroit. "Roy is very personable, charismatic kind of person. He's knowledgeable. He's tough. He'll be fair but I think he'll go out of his way to work with folks and put people's minds at ease. I don't think that he'll do anything that people."

Anderson said he is surprised Roberts is taking on this challenge but believes "he will do what he thinks is in the best interest of the system and the community."

Anthony Adams, the school board president, said Roberts is a "rags to riches guy who was at the top of the game at General Motors."

A pioneer for African-Americans in the auto industry, Roberts started at an assembly line and worked his way up the company before retiring in 2000 as GM's vice president of North American vehicle sales, service and marketing.

Adams called Roberts a "tenacious and persistent guy who has the creative vision of where he wants to take things."

Adams said Roberts will be coming into DPS at the most "difficult time" in memory, but people in the community know "what he's about." But Adams said Roberts must quickly assemble a "great team of people who can help him get this done."

"He's got summer school, which should be fairly well planned now, we've got a superintendent search, you've got charter schools," Adams said. "There are just a lot of things that are coming at one time that will require him to draw on all of his skills."

Agnes Hitchcock, a longtime community activist and leader of Call Em Out, has been a forceful critic of Bobb. She's ready to work with Roberts, she said.

"Although Mr. Roberts appears to come from the same ilk as Robert Bobb, he can't do any worse than Robert Bobb has done," Hitchcock said. "So it is my hope that he will concentrate on putting Detroit Public Schools on sound financial footing."

Roberts will have more power than Bobb. Under a new emergency manager law passed in March, managers can terminate union contracts, suspend collective bargaining for five years and strip local governmentsof much of their power.

Supporters say the law makes it easier to save troubled districts and cities before they become unmanageable. But opponents contend it's part of a national trend to weaken unions.

Detroit Councilman Andre Spivey called the selection of Roberts a "good fit" because of his business acumen and familiarity with the district. He said his only concern is how Roberts would relate to the community.

Roberts received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and completed graduate work at WMU and Detroit's Wayne State University, according to his biography.

He completed the Executive Development Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business, and the General Mot ors Advanced International General Management Program in Switzerland. He has also been awarded many of honorary doctorates and is a trustee emeritus at WMU.


ROBERT BOBB: A CASE STUDY. Published by the Voice of Detroit on line.

By Russ Bellant

(Ed. note: Mr. Bellant submitted this report – all four sections published here – to the Michigan Senate Education Committee during its hearing on Senate Bills Feb. 23, 2011. The House has since passed their equivalent of the bills, and the Senate, despite having Mr. Bellant’s report, was poised to pass their bills March 9, 2011.)

This work is dedicated to: Dr. Irene Norde, head of DPS curriculum, who was subpoenaed and testified in court under oath about the truth concerning Robert Bobb’s activities and was thereafter singled out for termination. Dr. Norde has since been selected by her peers as President-Elect of the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics. MCTM includes teachers and administrators from pre-K to College, and Walter Esaw, the DPS executive budget director who tried to show Bobb fiscal realities and a real deficit reduction plan and lost his job as a result.

PART ONE: The Other Side of Robert Bobb

The well-crafted image of Robert Bobb in Detroit is compelling. He is an anti-corruption crime buster dedicated to redirecting resources to the education of our children. He is a trustworthy figure fighting a self-perpetuating system of corption that is trying to block change for the education of our children. As a tireless, dedicated, incorruptable agent of the Governor, he is like the Marshall of the old West, coming into town in cowboy boots to right wrongs and then will move on to other challenges.

Little of this image, however, is true.

Since Mr. Bobb has become Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) at Detroit Public Schools, he has repeatedly made and left on the record recklessly false claims, has abused his contracting authority and has been in continuous violation of state laws and possibly federal law. He let it be known to DPS employees that their jobs are on the line if they cooperate with the former General Superintendent or the elected Board of Education. Some contracts are let to family and friends of Mr. Bobb and his top appointees, many of whom are living high on the hog at the expense of DPS.

By telling the underreported side of Robert Bobb and his network that is exploiting Detroit Public Schools, this report is also looking at the failure of the EFM model under Public Act 72, which legally created the EFM in 1990. The law assumes a well-intentioned and attentive Governor with the ultimate responsibility for EFM accountability. There is no recourse when that oversight fails.

In order to understand the context in which this takeover is understood in Detroit, this report begins with a brief look at the 1999 state takeover of Detroit Public Schools. The failures of the first takeover created the conditions for it to happen again under the EFM law.

The First State Takeover

On March 26,1999, Public Act 10 was approved in Lansing to give all the powers of an elected Board of Education and the Superintendent combined in one person, a CEO. Spelled out in the list of enumerated powers was authority over bonds and capital projects, as well as all other District funds. The elected Board model that had existed since 1842 was disestablished.

Then State Rep. Ed Vaughn stood on a desk on the House floor in 1999 to protest PA 10; Michigan's legislators today don't even leave the state to stop the vote as have Wisconsin senators.

This Public Act initiated a massive abuse of District finances created by a one-man system with no board to oversee contracts or operations. It was a model of unaccountability.

When the 1999 takeover was implemented” DPS had modestly increasing student enrollment (see Appendix A). The District had a $100 million positive fund balance (see Appendix B) and academic scores in the broad mid -range of districts in the state. There was no performance justification for the takeover. The conventional wisdom is that the actual reason for the takeover was to take control of $1.2 billion remaining from the $1.5 billion bond approved by voters in l994.It was a golden egg that tempted too many in Lansing and Detroit.

The abuses of that bond under the CEO are legend: three high schools were built at $130 to $140 million each that were overpriced and in the case of Cass Tech, had ongoing building systems problems. A contractor estimated that the new Renaissance High School could have been built for $72 million, not $130 million that was its actual price tag.Euly childhood centers were built for $20 million that should have been built for $5 million.

Students, parents and DPS workers rallied against Burnley actions.

Additionally, the $100 million surplus disappeared. In April, 2004, only two months before the end of the fiscal year, then-CEO Kenneth Bumley announced a deficit projection of $200 million. Governor Jennifer Granholm did not declare the state takeover a failure or impose discipline on Burnley. Instead she approved the sale of $210 million in deficit bonds, giving Burnley another pot of money to spend while saddling the future elected Board with $2 1 million a year in debt for the next I 5 yeaxs. Hence DPS is paying 53 1 5 million for the $210 million state-approved loan, or 5Ao/o in loan costs.

Burnley commenced the closing of 27 schools and the layoff of thousands of employees, creating a panic among parents that caused the immediate loss of over 9,000 students. The enrollment loss in the next two years was 19,697 students, exceeding the loss of the previous four years by several thousand.

DPS enrollment drastically declined during Burnley era.

Those consequences could have been ameliorated by prudent planning early in the fiscal year. The DPS Coalition of Unions, for instance, gave Burnley a plan in December 2003, five months into the fiscal year, that would have saved the District $150 million, but Burnley remained silent on the deficit, repeatedly refusing to acknowledge the coming deficit or even receipt of the savings plan.

By waiting until ten months into the fiscal year, Burnley stated that he needed to perform radical surgery on DPS in order to save a lot of money in the remaining two months. Even some on the appointed board, such as businessman Bill Brooks, felt that he let the situation get out of control and that Burnley should b€ fired. Then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick squelched that talk.

The takeover system was supposed to improve DPS, according to the 1999 justifications for Public Act 10. The law even set up a School District Accountability Board to review its operations. It was a high-powered group, composed of the State Budget Director, State Treasurer, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and two appointees of the Governor. They failed to catch the failure.

Keep the Vote No Takeover celebrates defeat of Prop E in 2004

In one quick season, the wisdom of a one-man system of unaccountability and the notion of mayoral control were both discredited. On the Proposal E 2004 referendtrm, voters decided by a 2 to 1 margin to not support permanent Mayoral control of the school system, even though the pro-Mayor forces outspent their opponents 20 to I on the ballot issue.

The State of Michigan, Governor Granholm, and those who supported the failed.

CEO/Mayor system never published a study of the six-and-a-half year CEO project. No audits were done, no indictments were drawn up, no in-depth media probes were reported. Everyone letit die quietly, privately conceding that it failed. They passed the legacy debt burden and the dropping enrollment crisis to the newly elected Board of Education.

For the next three years the elected Board struggled with the debt, closed lots of schools and was, especially in 2008, in continuous dialogue with the Michigan Department of Education over the deficit elimination plan. At the end of 2008, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flanagan, declared that a financial emergency existed at DPS. Granholm then selected Robert Bobb to be the Emergency Financial Manager with little apparent review of his background.

Enter Robert Bobb.

Governor Granholm imposed a second State takeover. While the 1999 takeover came through the front door with explicit legislative authority, Granholm avoided seeking direct legislative approval. She used the emergency financial statute to give power to Robert Bobb to not only take over finances, which the law allows, but she approved use of that power to unlawfully control academics and thus all spending of the District. She thus effected a total State takeover under her direct authority without legislative or voter approval. This gave her direct but behind-the-scenes control over Bobb’s actions, as Bobb’s contract says that he can be fired by the Governor at any time without cause.

DPS children joined workers to protest Bobb's policies Aug. 25, 2009.

When making this appointment, Granholm and Bobb promised a cooperative relationship with the Board over academic authority. As Bobb prepared to come to Detroit he and Granholm clearly promised that the Board would retain academic authority. Once on the scene, however, those commitinents were broken. Hence there was even less accountability under the Granholm arrangement than there was during the Burnley era. There is no oversight body with the legal authority to review or evaluate Bobb’s conduct.

Until the Board of Education took Bobb to court, he did not share information with the Board or the General Superintendent, whom he referred to in public as the Acting Superintendent. He has cut the Board’s small staff to only two people and the Superintendent had only one person reporting to her until Bobb fired her. While the law does not give him the power over the academic plan of the District, Bobb has used the threat of job loss to effectively stop anyone from helping the Board carry out its lawful duties, with the encouragement of the Govemor Granholm.


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