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For Detroit's schools, it's just one guy in charge now

DPS emergency financial manager Roy Roberts says without Proposal S, the district would be severely crippled.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts is also chairman of the Educational Achievement Authority, which approved a four-year contract for incoming chancellor John Covington.

Updated at 4:16 pm:

Roy Roberts has been waiting for this day for months. 

Michigan’s new emergency manager law takes effect today. And that means Roberts just got a lot more powerful.

He's the emergency manager for Detroit's public school system.

But for months, he’s been locked in a power struggle with the elected DPS school board.

That’s because nobody really knew how things were supposed to work, or who was running what, during the tumultuous period between the old EM law getting overturned, and the new EM law taking effect.

Today, the new law means that battle is over.

Roberts wins, and the school board loses what little authority it still had.

Board President LaMar Lemmons says he's worried Roberts will close more schools or turn them into charter schools.  

And if so, Lemmons says there's nothing anyone can do about it. 

"The elected governance is for all intents and purposes is non-existent and are spectators,” Lemmons says.

"We believe there's a systematic dismantling of the district. It means the citizen taxpayers will have their resources privatized." 

Nothing could be further from the truth, says DPS spokesman Steve Wasko. 

He's says he's answering media questions while Roberts is away on vacation for a few days. 

Roberts' new authority, and the new staffing decisions he's already making, are "not about changing things, but making sure they’re more stable, so that the current leadership team can now continue to move forward," says Wasko.

Still, Roberts is grabbing headlines with his decision to remove the board-hired superintendent, Dr. John Telford.

But that's not because he wanted to shut out the school board, Wasko says. It's because Roberts needs to first get rid of the "dual-headed structure" that persisted while Roberts and the board were fighting for control.  

"The bottom line is that it’s very, very difficult to run any institution with a dual leadership structure. At some point, somebody needs to be held accountable and be the person that parents and students can approach or hold accountable."

As to complaints that the schools officials who were actually elected are now essentially sidelined, Wasko says Roberts will be only too happy to have their cooperation -- but that the role board members will play is up to them.

Wasko says Roberts hopes board members will be active in public meetings, visiting DPS schools, and bringing up community concerns.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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