DETROIT — Detroit Public Schools’ board of education on Friday torpedoed a financial savings plan to close dozens of underutilized and run-down school buildings — a vote that some board members said could lead to thousands of lay-offs and possibly another state takeover.
The vote was 6-5, leading the crowd to break into applause and cheers after they had waited months for the board’s decision.
Some of those members who voted no said the plan was too disruptive to students, would cause more families to leave the system or didn’t take into account the academic success of some buildings slated for closure.
Those voting no were: Annie Carter, Jonathan Kinloch, Paula Johnson, Reverend David Murray, Marie Thornton and Ida Short. Those voting in favor of the plan were: School board president Jimmy Womack, Marvis Cofield, Carla Scott, Tyrone Winfrey and Joyce Hayes-Giles.
Parent Lucia Armstrong said she was relieved that Mason Elementary would not close.
“I’m glad they will have the same chances that some children in the suburbs have,” she said, touting the philanthropist-funded reading program the school offers to help children who are struggling.
Officials reworked the closure plan until just before the meeting in an attempt to satisfy board members who said they couldn’t support it. But that wasn’t enough to move the majority, and now district officials say they will go back to the drawing board to find ways to devise other strategies to save costs.
Womack said the failure to approve the plan could mean 1,800 layoffs could be implemented, numerous services would be outsourced and buildings in need of renovations would go without repairs.
Under the most recent proposal floated Friday night, the district would have closed 33 schools in fall 2007 and another 10 would have closed by fall 2008, if they did not meet academic and enrollment targets.
School officials said earlier in the day that the cash-strapped district needs to close at least 34 schools as part of the system’s deficit reduction plan to erase a $200 million debt.
The closure plan would have reaped at least $16.9 million annually, they said.
Board vice president Hayes-Giles said she didn’t think the board members who opposed the plan realized what they had done.
“We really could go into receivership,” she said after the meeting. “We aren’t going to have enough money to pay off our debt. This is a very sad day for DPS.” Hayes-Giles said she and other board members might have to begin work immediately to consider an alternative cost-saving proposal.
The outcome satisfied a number of board members, teachers, students, residents and parents who lobbied for weeks to save certain schools. Friday’s meeting grew so heated, with board members sparring at each other about the process, that Womack declared a recess mid-meeting and walked away from the table. He and other board members were frequently interrupted by jeers.
Board member Kinloch said he was voting against the plan because the board had mislead the public about the deficit and overstated the possibility of state receivership. He also said the district should wait until the new superintendent is in place before closing schools Some of those that would’ve closed include Courtis Elementary, Redford High and Communication and Media Arts High.
“We are not under any threat from Lansing for state takeover or any other sanctions,” Kinloch said. “We cannot pass this plan.” Kinloch also questioned how the district, in its dire financial state, could afford to launch 23 new themed schools, including an environmental studies programs and fine and performing arts school. The theme schools were part of the academic piece of the closure plan.
Womack suggested that some board members’ votes were tied to politics.
“Let’s not forget this is an election year,” he said earlier.
While the vote was a relief to a number of schools like Murray-Wright High, which just learned this week that its program could close, questions still plagued some onlookers.
Detroit resident Jody Ball, Sr., who has two children at Murray-Wright, pointed out that the district did not say how long the schools would remain open.
“Murray-Wright needs to stay open,” he said. “It has a great staff and the school is safe. The staff really cares about the kids.