Sunday, August 01, 2010

Democracy in Detroit: Is School Out Forever?

Only in Detroit, that democracy-forsaken place, would a city council decision to deprive Detroiters of a chance to vote be met with celebration and the convening of a “prayer circle” to thank God that nothing’s going to change for now. (“Council rejects referendum on mayoral control of DPS”).

And no change for now means, as Nolan Finley puts it today, “resumption of the incompetence, corruption and mismanagement that has made DPS the worst urban school district in the nation.” (“Death may be best for DPS”).

The issue before the council was whether or not to place a proposal on the November ballot giving Detroiters a choice of keeping the Detroit Public Schools under the control of an elected school board, or else allowing the mayor to take over.

I have no idea if Detroit Mayor Dave Bing would have made brilliant choices to run the district or not, but at least he would be accountable. What’s more, his entire political existence won’t be dependent on maintaining the status quo. He's got an entire city to run.

By contrast, the Detroit School Board is an independent body unaccountable to anyone in the city of Detroit, or, for that matter, to anyone else in heaven or earth. Like any other political body so composed, the board’s first priority is protecting its members’ power, and precious little else. And the board has always worked towards that goal with single-minded self-dealing:
With about 87,000 students, the Detroit Public Schools is faced with drastically declining enrollment and a deficit that has ballooned to $363 million. This year alone the district will close 30 schools with about 11,000 students, joining nearly 150 others that have been closed district-wide since 2003.

The district also ranks among the lowest in the country for graduation rates. In December, a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders scored the worst ever in the 40-year history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

The district has been plagued with regular changeover of superintendents and state control. Since 1999, the district has been taken over by the state twice. The school board was restored in 2006 and has ousted two superintendents. [Emergency Financial Manager Robert] Bobb was appointed by the governor in 2009.
How did opponents paint the referendum on mayoral control as a civil rights issue? Need you ask? “[F]oes of the measure likened it to slavery and complained it subverted democracy by abolishing the elected board.”

More specifically, Detroiters are being told that if they can’t continue electing an independent school board to be in charge of the school district, then they’re being deprived of the right to vote. Never mind that the mayor hold’s elected office, too, and if they don’t like who he puts in charge of the schools, they can vote him out.

And, the issue itself was going to be placed on the ballot -- for a city-wide VOTE! That’s what these people in the picture are saying NO! NO! NO! to. and they only needed six council votes to get their way. That's so much better than letting thousands of votes from Detroit parents decide the matter. (Or, what the civil rights community in Detroit understands by the term, “slavery.”)

One district spokesman, Steve Wasko, referred to Thursday’s council vote as "a dismal day for the democratic process.”

"One can only assume that the reason the purveyors of the status quo fought so hard to keep the voters out of this is the recognition that the majority of those voters are demanding change and would overwhelmingly vote for it given the opportunity to do so," Wasko said.
Yes, that is my assumption. And yet how is it that people holding themselves out as champions of civil rights consider it a moral victory when they disfranchise their fellow citizens, instead of the other way around? I can only credit this growing anti-democratic mentality to decades of Detroit being a one-party city.
Afterward, an impromptu celebration erupted outside of the council's chambers on the 11th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. A prayer circle with about 25 people against mayoral control convened in the overflow auditorium.

"The little people finally won at last," school board member Annie Carter said. "The majority of the poor of the city finally won something (over) the big-time corporate people with all the money that they put behind this to take away our rights and said we could not ever elect another school board."
Needless to say, when someone like school board member Annie Carter talks about “the little people” and the “poor of the city” winning here, she’s not talking about the kids stuck in these awful schools, or their impoverished parents who can’t afford to send them to schools where they might have a chance. She’s talking about school board member Annie Carter.

1 comment:

Wendy Woodley said...

"By contrast, the Detroit School Board is an independent body unaccountable to anyone in the city of Detroit, or, for that matter, to anyone else in heaven or earth."
Actually, I think they ARE accountable to someone in Heaven. It's just that they don't seem to know it.