12 May 2010

Bobb's Academic Plans get Green Light

The Detroit News

State appeals court lifts injunction; DPS board vows to continue fight

Lansing -- Robert Bobb is prepared to move "rapidly" with his academic and closure plans for Detroit Public Schools after winning an appeals court ruling Thursday, but the school board vowed to ask the state Supreme Court to stop him.

"We are going to try to reverse the ruling and, more than that, reverse what Bobb is trying to do to the city of Detroit," said George Washington, an attorney for the 11-member school board after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled just hours after hearing oral arguments from both sides.

The board believes Bobb, the state-appointed emergency financial manager of the district, has no authority to proceed with academic plans and that a Wayne Circuit Court injunction issued last month was needed to protect the district's 85,000 students from undue harm.

But the three-judge appeals court ruled the board "failed to make a showing that (Bobb's) actions would result in harm that would be irreparable."

"It's unfortunate that we've had to delay valuable programs for DPS students and halt others in the interim," DPS spokesman Steve Wasko said after the ruling. "We can now move forward with implementing our plans rapidly at the same time that we look forward to a thorough discussion of these in court."

The decision doesn't end the legal power struggle between Bobb and the board. The board sued Bobb in August, alleging he is overstepping his authority by making academic decisions and for failing to consult with them on financial decisions, as required by law. The case is ongoing in circuit court where Judge Wendy Baxter issued the preliminary injunction April 16 to bar Bobb from proceeding with his $540 million academic plan, among other things. A hearing is scheduled for May 21. The appeals court overturned the injunction Thursday.

"It doesn't diminish the merits of our case and our ability to prevail ultimately against the emergency financial manager's actions," board vice president Anthony Adams said.

Big issues hang in the balance: closing more than 40 schools by June, developing a budget by June 30 and registering thousands of students for summer school.

Bobb "continues to be willing to meet with the board moving forward with programs beneficial for students, as he or his team has done on at least 27 occasions during the last 14 months," Wasko said, providing a timeline of meetings Bobb and his staff had with individuals from the board. However, the board contends consultation only counts when Bobb meets with the full board.

The closings plan, which officials say will save the district $31 million, will also proceed but be modified "based on extensive community input through dozens of parent and school meetings," Wasko added.

The district's deficit has ballooned to $317 million under Bobb, who is in his second year on the job. He was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Earlier Thursday, both sides had 30 minutes to argue their case before Judges Alton T. Davis, William C. Whitbeck and Donald S. Owens.

The board was represented by attorney Shanta Driver, who gave an emotional oral argument, at one point nearing tears, urging the court to follow the law -- which, she said, is not designed to strip away the academic powers of the school board.

Are you "prepared to declare that Detroit is incompetent to make its own decisions about education ... and simply give that right over to the financial manager?"

School board supporters, who had traveled by bus to Lansing, packed the courtroom.

"It hurts me so much," said parent To'I Coleman as she learned of the ruling on the bus ride home. She's worried now about Bobb "running rampant" with school closings and layoffs of teachers and principals. "He's demolishing the public school system and our children are going to pay the price for all of this."

Raymond Howd, who represented Bobb from Attorney General Mike Cox's office, argued it "is inevitable that some of ... Bobb's financial decisions may overlap into the areas of academics, curriculum and educational policies -- he is, after all, in charge of the finances of a public school district, whose core business is academics."

The district faces losing $50 million in federal funds if Bobb is not able to proceed with the academic plans approved by the state Department of Education, Howd said.

Later, Cox praised the appeals court decision. "The ruling is a huge victory for the children of Detroit, and now we can get Mr. Bobb back to work," he said in a statement.

During the hearing, Davis made a comment that foreshadowed the legal power battle over the school system.

"I have a feeling litigation is in the future no matter what we do," he said.

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