In 2011, DPS Financial manager Roberts was confident that Education Achievement Authority (EAA) would be a success. “I’ll make you a little bet,” he told Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey. “Give us two years and people will ask us to be in EAA.”
The EAA is a new state-run school district, which is a public/private partnership between the state and Eastern Michigan University, is the first of a statewide effort to turn around schools that are underperforming. The creation of the EAA district was taken under Public Act 4, the controversial emergency manager law that’s now up for public vote in November.
If the people decide to toss PA4 on Election Day, Roberts won’t be able to see out his EAA bet—or anything else—as the Board of Education will regain power.
The question remains, if Roberts isn’t there to “undo 50 years of crap” as he puts it, who will? Certainly not the old systems that have been in place—or a superhero: “Superman ain’t comin’ is one of Robert’s favorite quips when referring to the DPS crisis.
Back in 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder first appointed Roberts, he made it clear he was tough—and frank—enough for the job. And with the scope of EFM power increased under the new Public Act 4 legislation, Roberts had the ability to do things his predecessor, Robert Bobb, couldn’t.
Things like overseeing the new EAA district, offering take-home Netbooks for students in grades 8-12, individualized learning plans for each DPS student and new specialized schools including Medicine and Arts high schools and still slashing $75 million from the budget.
As Tuesday marked the first day of school for DPS, the advertisements ramping up to opening day have been aggressive—and good: Either the Detroit Public School district is doing a world-class PR job, or it really has taken great measures to improve the learning environment for the upcoming year. And while it may be a little of both, it seems that the district is starting off the academic year revamped and better organized.
With just over a year of what Roberts has called “the hardest job of his life” under his belt, he has accomplished much of what he said he would without being hamstrung by the Board of Education. Now, as November approaches, time is running out to prove that DPS is better off in the state’s hands.
Parents have to decide for themselves if their children are better off now than they were two years ago. But both Roberts and his counterpart, EAA chancellor John Covington, both agree that the future is not just up to them—or superman. And while two years is hardly enough to judge long term progress, so far they have made huge strides in changing the landscape of public education in the city.
“This is something we can’t do by ourselves,” Covington said, calling on people to get involved in the process. “We need the general community to get actively involved. There aught to be someone out there holding us accountable.”