Byrd-Bennet and other executives implemented their version of school administration in almost bankrupt Detroit... Rahm Emanuel following Detroit model for Chicago Public Schools reform? Three top CPS officials now in place came from posts in Detroit!

By the end of 2012, Rahm Emanuel's model for what is being called the "reform" of Chicago's public schools can easily be identified: Detroit, Michigan. Following Emanuel's appointment of Barbara Byrd Bennett as "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS, Emanuel's school board has expanded its talent search -- not in Chicago but in Michigan. Byrd Bennett's last job before Chicago was in Detroit's public schools.

The Wall Street Journal noted Detroit's latest financial problems in a November 30 article, three weeks before the Chicago Board of Education voted to hire two additional Detroit experts to work in the cabinet of Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennet. Although most of the media descriptions of Byrd Bennett's career focus on her work in Cleveland's public schools, Byrd Bennett was a highly paid functionary in Detroit prior to being selected by Chicago's mayor to work first as "Chief Eduction Officer" (March 2012) and then as "Chief Executive officer" (October 2012) as if Detroit is the best model for reforming Chicago's public schools. By the the December 2012 holidays had added two other Detroit administrators to the top of the CPS hierarchy (what Byrd-Bennett is calling her "cabinet"). The two latest appointments were approved, without discussion or debate, at the December 19 meeting of the seven-member Chicago Board of Education, to previously non-existent positions of "Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer" and "Chief Strategic Planning Officer".

The two newest CPS officials from Detroit are Jack Elsey, Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer at the Board meeting, and Tracy Martin-Thompson, as Chief Strategic Planning Officer. As of December 27, 2012, the Board Reports approving the two were not yet available on line at the CPS website (which usually has the "Action" agendas on line within a week after the Board meetings) so the salaries and other costs of the new officers is not yet in the public record. The CPS press release announcing their appointment does not state their salaries.

Between his times in public service, Emanuel became the first ballet dancer who was transformed into what he called a "Relationship Banker," earning $18 million during three years on Wall Street.

Although Emanuel at one point almost bragged that he does not read the financial press, a recent (November 30, 2012) article in The Wall Street Journal (Page A6 national edition) might have suggested to the mayor that Detroit was not to be the best model for what should be done with Chicago's public schools.

Jack Elsey became Chicago's Chief Officer for Innovation and Incubation by a vote of the Chicago Board of Education at its December 19, 2012 meeting. Elsey comes to Chicago from Detroit, but prior to that he was in Teach for America and a "resident" at the Broad Foundation. At its December 19 meeting, CPS added the two Detroit administrators to its executive ranks. One, Jack Elsey, becomes the first "Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer..." for CPS, straight from Detroit. "As Chief Innovation and Incubation Officer," a CPS press release put out December 19 stated," Jack Elsey will bring creative new approaches to grow performance across the District by ensuring high-quality educational options are available throughout the city. At Detroit Public Schools, Elsey served as Assistant Superintendent where he focused on creating and piloting systems that strategically use data to drive instructional and operational decision-making."

The CPS press release did not mention that the young Elsey was a product of Teach for America and the Broad Foundation. According to the Broad Foundation: Jack Elsey was a product of The Broad Residency Class of 2010-2012... Placement Organization: Detroit Public Schools, Chief Schools Officer, Detroit Rising College Prep Schools... Pre-Residency: Teach for America, M.S., Pace University, B.A., Wake Forest University. “The achievement gap is the product of our nation's history of inequality, but through programs like The Broad Residency, we can do something about it. By attacking at the system-wide level the root causes that allow a student's educational trajectory to be determined more by their zip code than their potential, we can ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to become empowered citizens in an increasingly competitive world,” Elsey is quoted as saying.

The other new "cabinet" appointment by Byrd-Bennett was Tracy Martin-Thompson, who became Chief Officer of Strategic School Support. "The Office of Strategic School Support will be accountable for driving improvement in CPS’ lowest-performing schools and developing a District-wide strategy to ensure sufficient resources are directed to them," stated a CPS press release following the Board's vote. "This office will play a critical role in supporting neighborhood schools with sufficient supports and resources. The former Office of School Improvement (OSI) will be housed within this office, but, unlike the past, this Office of Strategic School Support will not be focused only on providing "turnaround" or "transformation" schools with support. Rather, all under-performing neighborhood schools will receive support from the District. This office is inclusive of and will be responsible for the resource allocation, strategy, and operational support of all of the District's under-performing schools"

Todd Babbitz, who was appointed "Chief Transformation Officer" of Chicago's public schools at the July 2012 meeting of the Board (at an annual salary of $195,000) has also introduced himself as "Chief Strategy Officer". On December 19, 2012, the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously and without debate to appoint Tracy Martin-Thompson, most recently from Detroit, as its Chief Strategy Officer. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.No member of the Board of Education asked whether Chicago needed what amounts to a second chief of strategy. The board members had voted at their July meeting to appoint an outsider named Todd Babbitz as "Chief Transformation Officer" at an annual salary of $195,000 per year. Babbits introduced himself at the City Council Education Committee hearing on the proposed Commission on school "underutilization" at the CPS chief of strategy. He was present at the December 19 Board meeting when the Board voted to hire Tracy Martin Thompson.

There was no discussion at the public meeting of the Board about whether a former Detroit administrator should join other Detroit administrators in Chicago: "Tracy Martin-Thompson comes from Detroit Public Schools with a strong track record of ensuring that students and faculty are provided with the necessary tools for success," the press release continued. "As Chief of Staff, Academics for Detroit Public Schools, Martin-Thompson supported the District’s lowest-performing schools, developing and executing implementation of a comprehensive five-year academic plan. She also assisted in the redesign of teaching and learning framework, supporting the alignment of curriculum, instructional strategies, assessment and professional development."

The national press has been covering the scandals and mess in Detroit, even if Chicago has had a blackout and no Board of Education members asked about this strange model. According to "Detroit on the Verge of Insolvency, Again" (November 30, 2012, by Matthew Dolan):

DETROIT -- This city is back on the brink of insolvency, just months after signing an agreement with state officials designed to shake up its shaky finances.

Some city and state leaders believe Detroit has now reached a breaking point, where it must decide whether to accept a state-appointed emergency manager to run the government on file for bankruptcy to protect the city from its creditors.

For years, Detroit has borrowed millions to fund its operations, unable to find ways to boost revenues. Financial mismanagement stemming from political corruption, a hard hit housing marekt and a massive loss in population -- 25% of all city residents left from 2000 to 2010 -- were aqll factors in its fiscal woes.

The latest crisis stems from an impasse between the mayor and the City Council over enacting provisions of April's consent agreement, as well as the repal of a state law that served as the backbone of that agreement.

Council members argue that city needs to remain independent rejecting a contract for a restructuring firm with close state ties, for example. But the mayor and governor insist that approval and others are necessary to bring fundamental change to the city's operations.

Detroit's balance of power was also changed by the repeal in this month's election of a powerful emergency manager law. Under that law, cities under a state of emergency could tear up expensive collective bargaining agreements with public employees and impose new terms. After the law's repeal, the state reverted to an older version of the law that allows for an emergency manager but doesn't provide that power over bargaining agreements. If the agreement terms aren't met, the governor could still appoint an emergency in Detroit, supplanting the mayor and city council's roles. Overarching those political hurdles is a sober financial reality; The city's meager revenues aren't enough to support services for its 713,000 resident living across 139 square miles. Detroit's operating deficit in the current fiscal year is projected at more than $100 million. If the city doesn't receive a promised $30 million in state aid by the third week of December, it would run out of cash. That aid package was contingent upon progress on certain financial overhauls that the city hasn't enacted.

To make up the difference, Mayor David Bing -- a former pro basketball player who called his job "probably the second most difficult job behind the president" in a broadcast interview posted Thursday -- said the city would start furloughing some of its 11,000 workers and enacting other cost-saving actions on Jan. 1. "Chapter 9 bankruptcy is a last resort," Mr. Bing said in a statement Thursday, "We expect to successfully meet our financial challenges outside of bankruptcy Detroit will remain solvent." Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously opposed bankruptcy as an option for Detroit and other economically challenged cities, is now exploring whether to put it back on the table. The Republican governor had said the state's law stipulating the emergency appointment of a city manager was enough to keep cities solvent. State Sen. Jack Brandenburg, a Republican who represents the city's northern suburbs, lamented that 'the city just get get it together.' A bankruptcy reorganization, he said, 'would not be good for the taxpayers in the short term. But in three or four years, the results would be better.'

Even members of the city's financial advisory board, appointed as part of the agreement, say bankruptcy must be considered, however politically unpalatable. "When a business can't run itself properly, bankruptcy has to be an option," said board member W. Howard Morris, the president of a Detroit-based investment partnership. "I just don't think it's a good option, because you lose total control of having input to shape your own destiny." For fiscal year 2013, Detroit is expected to have $1.603 billion in revenue and $1.680 billion in expenses, leaving the city another $76 million in the red. The city's total debt is $8.2 billion, according to Moody's Investors Service.

Credit-rating agencies took notice of Detroit's worsening fiscal health this week. Moody's downgraded Detroit's bonds further into junk territory on Wednesday, warning of an "increasing possibility that the city could file for bankruptcy over the next 12 to 24 months."

For Detroit residents, the latest episode looks and sounds like a rerun. In the spring, the city worried about reducing employees' pay, but then the state agreed to infuse the city with $137 million through the refinancing of municipal debt and the issuing of new bonds.

A condition of the state financing was the creation of a financial advisory board to scrutinize the city's books. That board has been unhappy with slow progress in restructuring the police and fire departments, fixing the bus system, collecting an estimated $250 million in delinquent taxes and realizing cost savings from cuts in pay and benefits from city employees. Pending lawsuits challenging the city's agreement with the state and pay cuts have also gummed up the works. Lawsuits have been filed by activists, unions and even the city's own corporation counsel questioning the validity of the agreement and the emergency-manager law that supported it.


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