Saving Good Detroit Jobs

Fort Gratiot, MI

#1 Jul 14, 2010
Saving Detroit Jobs
by Michael Goodell

Seeking to turn control of Detroit’s Public Schools over to the Mayor, a group called Change for Better Schools presented the Detroit City Council with petitions containing 30,704 signatures. The petitions sought to place the advisory question on the November ballot. Even if it passed, the State Legislature would have to vote to remove the elected School Board. Still, the City Council turned them down.

As many people know, Detroit’s public schools are in sole possession of first place in the National Education Association’s much-ballyhooed Race to the Bottom initiative to transform American education. With a graduation rate generously ascribed as being around 25%, Detroit’s Public Schools System is justifiably proud of its track record in training Detroit students to become wards of the state.

Despite such impressive achievements in the classroom, the DPS has struggled over the years to manage its fiscal affairs. Though the system was rife with looting by suppliers and employers, it was difficult to figure out how serious the problem was because their financial records were a mess. Apparently the DPS made a practice of hiring its own graduates. The financial situation was so disastrous that even the state’s Democratic administration had to step in.

The Governor appointed Robert Bobb to bring some order to the fiscal train wreck. In a tremendous show of support, a grateful School Board immediately sued to stop Bobb’s reforms. Things have gone from bad to worse since then, which is what prompted Change for Better Schools to seek a way to get the School Board’s mitts off the district.

Fortunately, the Detroit City Council denied the reformers’ request. They had the wisdom to realize in these difficult economic times, it would be foolish to eliminate jobs, especially jobs like seats on the DPS Board of Education. Without the board, they no doubt reasoned, where would people like Otis Mathis III and Reverend David Murray get work?

Not long ago,“The Detroit News” released emails which demonstrated Mathis’ um, shall we say casual acquaintance with the English language. To some, being functionally illiterate would be enough to disqualify a person from serving on a School Board. Not so the DPS. Mathis was elected board President. At least he was until last month, when he was forced to resign after he unzipped his pants and fondled himself during a meeting with the (female) Superintendent.

Apparently that was too much, even for DPS Board members. Or at least, for most of them. Mathis tried to renege on his resignation after a fellow board member, Reverend David Murray,(ahem), rose to his defense, claiming Mathis was “a young man; maybe he didn’t know it was offensive to her.” Mathis was 55, the same age as Murray.

Of course, Reverend Murray is a piece of work himself. He is not a minister. He had his name legally changed to Reverend so he could be listed as Reverend on the ballot. This means a lot to voters in a culture where the church is the only institution not completely broken. Even more impressive than his name, is the fact that two years ago the state’s Children’s Protective Service removed all six of Murray’s children from his home amid allegations of abuse, neglect and domestic violence. At a subsequent hearing Murray lost custody of his children, including four foster children. Fortunately, he was reelected to the board the following year.

The Detroit City Council showed good judgment in preserving the School Board. There aren’t a lot of good jobs left in Detroit, even for stellar individuals like Murray and Mathis. Why cut off any opportunity for advancement?

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