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Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager: DPS

Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager: DPS

Bobb has earned chance to stay at DPS, many say

Consistency called crucial amid daunting challenges

BY CHASTITY PRATT DAWSEY and PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI – FREE PRESS EDUCATION WRITERS

The Detroit Public Schools stands to gain much-needed consistency if a contract extension is signed for the appointee who is running the district, observers and experts said Wednesday.

Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools, said Wednesday that he would like to remain at the helm, provided a contract agreement can be reached, DPS officials confirmed. In past interviews, he was noncommittal.

Bobb has gained a following — and critics — for a no-nonsense tone and for publicizing fraud, waste and corruption his administration has uncovered.

“The governor was clearly very pleased with the job that Robert Bobb is doing with the Detroit Public Schools and has made no secret that she would like him to continue through another year,” said Liz Boyd, spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “The fact that he says today that he wants to do that is great news.”

Karen Dumas, spokeswoman for Mayor Dave Bing, agreed, saying, “It’s all part of what should be an overall strategy for stability in the district.”

Both Bobb and Bing have advocated a mayoral takeover of the district.

Outsiders agree that an extended contract makes sense.

Bobb has a “moral obligation” to continue on the job for a second year, said Sharif Shakrani, codirector of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

“I think it would have been impossible to accomplish everything in the first year because it takes a long time to get acclimated to the district, to recognize what the problems are,” Shakrani said.

The budget Bobb created for 2009-10 is about $21 million overspent so far, but adjustments will be made to balance it by year’s end, officials said. The estimated $430-million deficit from prior years that greeted Bobb has been cut to about $259 million.

Bobb’s challenges in his second year would be to make sure the district lives within its financial means.

“He has to basically create a budget that’s significantly lower for the second year,” Shakrani said.

Granholm appointed Bobb in March to a one-year contract. By law, the contract may be renewed on an annual basis for not more than one year.

In the spring, amid reports that Bobb was considering a run for mayor in Oakland, Calif., where he formerly had been city manager, Bobb said that he was keeping open his options after his one-year appointment. However, he recently told the Free Press that he is not actively campaigning for mayor there.

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said he and Bobb have their disagreements, but the district is better off since he arrived.

“Our inconsistency has been our greatest downfall, so consistency is now our greatest necessity,” Johnson said. “If he were doing an inferior job, then, I’d say, hell no, we don’t need that kind of consistency.”

But school board member Marie Thornton says she’s still not impressed with the job Bobb’s done.

The board and Bobb are embroiled in a court battle over authority over the district’s academic policy.

“He wants to declare bankruptcy one day, the next day he wants the mayor to take it over,” Thornton said. “I just think he’s misleading the people to push that Proposal S.”

Bobb’s declaration that he wants to stay comes as he is traversing the city to push Proposal S, a $500.5-million school construction and renovation bond that will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. Parents and City Council members last week asked him whether he would be around to oversee the bond spending in the event that it passes.

“The message has been loud and clear from all sides that people are legitimately concerned about oversight of this bond issue and have expressed a willingness to put their continued trust in the emergency financial manager to oversee it,” said Steve Wasko, spokesman for DPS. “That being said, just as important will be the establishment, as he has committed to, of a strong Oversight Commission and additional oversight by the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Auditor General.”

Contact CHASTITY PRATT DAWSEY:               313-223-4537         313-223-4537 or cpratt@freepress.com

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