16 Detroit school buildings to close doors by fall

Corey Williams, Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- More than a dozen Detroit Public Schools buildings — including several high schools — will close and many students reassigned before the start of fall classes as the district continues to slash costs and consolidate programs to improve learning.

The closures are the latest of dozens for a district losing thousands of students each year, ranking near the bottom in the state and nationally on standardized testing and mired in a multi-million budget deficit.

All of the closures and consolidations are expected to save the district about $9.1 million annually in operating costs.

In addition to the closures announced Wednesday by state-appointed emergency manager Roy Roberts, four newly constructed schools will be opened.

City, Kettering, Finney, Southwestern, Crocket and Mumford high schools are among the buildings that will close. Finney and Crocket students will attend the new, East English Village Preparatory Academy. Mumford students will move from the old building into the new, $50.3 million Mumford High.

"We're working our way through a phenomenon," Roberts said. "No city has gone through what the city of Detroit is going through. No school system has gone through what we're going through with the loss of students."

The district has lost nearly 100,000 students over the past 10 years, he added.

In a letter to parents announcing the closure of Ludington Magnet Middle School building and relocation of its students into another building, Roberts said the 110,000-seat district has 69,616 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

"The vacant seats, taken together, represent what would be equivalent to the second largest school district in the state," he wrote. "And, future trends call for continued reduction in school-age population."

The district has struggled mightily with its finances over the past few years and has lost millions of dollars in state per-pupil funding due to plummeting enrollment.

Dozens of schools have been closed over that time. But the 16 closures and reassignment of students announced Wednesday are fewer than in recent years.

When asked Wednesday if the latest round of closings would be the district's last, Roberts said: "I doubt it very much. It's predictable based on where the population is going."

Detroit's population nosedived to 713,000 from more than 900,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

Roberts was appointed last spring by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to fix the school district's finances. The district faces a projected budget deficit of $86 million, down from $327 million when Roberts took the job.

The school closures should be a cause of concern for students, parents, teachers and staff, said David Dobbie, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers Michigan.

"As Detroit Public Schools grapples with addressing its budget deficit, we hope every measure is taken to keep those affected by decisions surrounding DPS informed in order to minimize uncertainty surrounding the education of the city's children," Dobbie said in a release Wednesday. "As we move forward, it is our sincere hope that parents, educators and the communities are brought into the decision-making process. Their voices are an invaluable part of improving our schools."

As part of the closures, students in seven outdated buildings will be moved into the four new schools, built under a $500 million bond program. Some schools are being closed because of a poor academic performance, low enrollment, high maintenance costs or a combination of all three.

The 229-student Detroit City High and its Second Chance program will close with students reassigned to other high schools. Less than one percent of City High students are proficient in math and only eight percent proficient in English and Language Arts.

Jemison Academy on the city's west side also will close with students reassigned to two other schools. Jemison is one of the lowest performing schools in the district with an enrollment of 474 students. Immediate window and roof replacement would have cost the district more than $1.7 million.

Kettering students will be reassigned to four other high schools. The building, which also houses a special education school, has only 930 students — about half of what it was built to hold. Repairs to the school's roof, windows and heating and air conditioning systems would cost more than $5 million.

Roberts also announced Wednesday that four other schools will be offered as district-authorized charters and will open in the fall if operators are found. Another 15 low-performing schools will be taken over by the new Education Assessment System.

The new system is designed to take over operation of the lowest 5 percent of Detroit schools in terms of academic achievement. It is scheduled to go statewide beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

Improving academics in Detroit has been part of Roberts' mission since he took over for Robert Bobb, who spent two years as Detroit Schools emergency financial manager.

On Wednesday, Roberts and Karen Ridgeway, superintendent of academics, announced that Detroit will create individualized learning plans that will pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of each student. The district's overall academic plan is being built around state and national standards and the state curriculum.

Roberts wants this plan to stay in place to offer a "degree of continuity" in the district.

"Seven superintendents in seven years, and every time one comes on board — me or someone else — they change the program," he said. "They jerk principals around, teachers around and the kids get hurt."