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Roy Roberts Wants More Time To Fix Detroit Public Schools

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Flickr: sidewalk flying
Flickr: sidewalk flying

Roy Roberts, the emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools, says if asked he would stay in his job after his one-year term ends in May.

"In all fairness, if (the governor) asked me to stay, I'd be hard-pressed to leave because you can't do this to the kids," he told the Detroit Free Press. "Clearly, you can't get it done in a year, and if I stay two years, you won't get it all done."

Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Roberts in May under Public Act 4, the state law that allows the governor to appoint emergency managers with nearly unlimited power to run struggling cities and school districts.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise. Like his predecessor Robert Bobb, Roberts, a former GM executive, has had a term marked by tough decisions and controversy. He has even faced an attempt to remove him from office that is being heard by the state Supreme Court.

So far during his tenure, Roberts implemented a "zero base" budgeting system for DPS that requires every expense to be justified. He managed to lower the DPS deficit to around $83 million from a peak of nearly $327 million under Bobb.

But much of this deficit reduction has relied on long-term bonds, which must paid back in 10 years, leaving the district with $500 million in long-term debt.

Roberts's tough approach to deficit reduction has had a significant impact on DPS employees. In response to decreasing student enrollment, he called back only those teachers and staff members he needed, eliminating 400 positions.

In August, Roberts reduced the district's budget by nearly $82 million by cutting employee pay 10 percent and requiring staff to pay 20 percent of their health care costs.

While these moves angered critics, Roberts came under even more fire at the time for citing an extravagant purchase of a $40,000 Chevy Tahoe as a work expense.

He has faced similar criticism for his decision to charge the district for round-the-clock body guard protection from two full-time school district police officers.

Some of Roberts's actions, including his slashing of DPS payroll and his voiding of a lease on behalf of DPS, have led to lawsuits.

Roberts also made headlines for his participation in Gov. Snyder's newly created Education Achievement System, which effectively splits Detroit Public Schools into two districts. The EAS will form a new district comprising Michigan's lowest performing schools -- of these 98 schools, 39 are from Detroit. According to the Michigan Citizen, DPS could lose almost $400 million -- a third of its budget -- if these schools leave the district.

When the new district takes effect this September, Roberts will jointly serve as DPS emergency manager and chair of the 11-member EAS board.

There are currently 130 schools in DPS, making it Michigan's largest school district. It has a $1.1 billion budget and 66,000 students.

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