11/01/2012 09:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Roy Roberts, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager, Threatens To Leave If Proposal 1 Fails

Roy Roberts, the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, says he may leave the job if voters reject Proposal 1, the statewide ballot proposal that would affirm the state's ability to take over financially struggling school districts and municipalities.

The proposal would uphold Public Act 4, which took effect in 2011 and gave broad powers to emergency managers to, among other things, modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements. Roberts said if it fails, it would jeopardize the reforms he has put in place since he was appointed 15 months ago.

"In the absence of legislation empowering a single entity with the authority to operate the district, continued progress will be virtually impossible," Roberts wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday.

"Therefore, while my commitment to the children of Detroit remains as strong as it was when I began this journey, without the tools provided by (the law), I do not believe that my presence here can have any further impact."

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Roberts counted as among the accomplishments during his tenure the reduction of the district's deficit from $327 million in May 2011 to $74 million today, accomplished in part by selling $200 million in bonds.

He said in an interview Wednesday that if the proposal fails, he will make a decision immediately after meeting with the leadership of the Detroit Board of Education to "see if there was any room for us to work together on a common direction to educate the kids in the city of Detroit."

The board's role will be key. If Proposal 1 fails, the state would revert back to the emergency financial manager law that has been on the books for more than 20 years. Under that law, Roberts would only have control over financial decisions in the district. The board would control academic matters.

"If we could reach some kind of accord, I'd be around. If we could not, someone else might be more effective in the position than I am," Roberts said.

The law was suspended this summer after it was placed on Tuesday's ballot and the state reverted to the old law until Tuesday's vote. A Wayne County judge ruled in August that until the vote, Roberts would only be able to make financial decisions. The aftermath, Roberts said in his letter, has been "utter confusion and chaos."

Board president LaMar Lemmons said he believes Roberts should step down.

"He never fully grasped his responsibility," Lemmons said. "In my opinion, his responsibility was to primarily rectify the financial emergency and turn it back to a democratically elected governance."

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor has been pleased with Roberts' performance and that the concerns about repeal of the beefed-up emergency manager act he expressed in the letter are well-founded. ___

(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press

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