Detroit closing half its schools

Wow, they are closing half of their schools. High school classes will have 60 kids in them.

Jesus wept.

(Me too)

“It’s driven by an absolute requirement to get to zero in a prescribed period of time and doesn’t take into account issues of educational quality or viability for parents,” said Steve Wasko, a spokesman for Bobb.

That seems shortsighted.

As the article points out, the administrator is required by law to eliminate the budget deficit within a very short time-frame. Bascially he’s saying this is the only way he can do that.

On the other hand, you’d think that a school district could manage on $6700+ in state aid per student alone (not factoring in other sources of revenue, like local property tax levies) so there are obviously major major issues at play in Detroit.

If they’re getting $6700 in state aid, and lets assume maybe $2300 from other sources (property tax), for a total of $9K/student, then something seems amiss.

60 students per class? By the assumptions above, the district is taking in ~$540K to teach those 60 kids. Teachers are not, I assume, making anywhere close to $540K, and even with some pessimistic assumptions about cost to run the schools themselves, overhead, and so on, it’s a little hard to figure out where the money is going.

(EDIT: BTW, if the $6700/student in state aid figure is true, I suspect the income from all other sources is probably more than $2300/student. That’s, IMO, a conservative figure to plug in…)

I wonder if their budgets are available online!

The cost structures of private schools suggest that quality education demands far more than $6,700 per student.

You could probably argue that many private schools are willing to spend a lot of money to buy a relatively small increase in educational quality, but I don’t think you could argue that any school could survive off of less than $7k per student without drastic changes to the educational formula. Such changes may be possible, but they’re unlikely to develop out of an environment of desperation and depression.

But they will have a statue of Robocop.

Quick question: Does anyone know how sectarian schools are funded? Their tuition fees seems to hover around $7,000, which suggests that it may be possible to deliver a decent quality education for that price. Does the larger congregation pay some of the bills, or are religious schools generally self-sustaining?

Certainly, the data from secular private schools and from public schools suggest that a quality education costs far more than $7k per student.

They do. And according to their FY2009 budget (the first one I found), they had about $12500/student to spend (total expected revenues divided by total student projection) and still ended up with a projected deficit of over $100m. About half of their revenue was coming from the state and about 1/10 was being raised from local property taxes.

For comparison I looked at the same FY2009 budget for the Seattle public schools, which had about half as many students. The average spending per student was just over $13000. While the state contribution was roughly the same percentage wise, Seattle generated more actual local property tax revenue and covered about twice as much of their budget that way as a result. Seattle, like Detroit, faces a decreasing number of actual students in their core city district and like Detroit is faced with infrastructure issues (too many schools, older buildings, etc.) as a result. Which is not to say they are comparable since we all realize the situation in Detroit is a lot different then it is in Seattle economically.

The four teachers I know who left to work in either non-sectarian private schools or public schools tell me that sectarian schools pay teachers lower salaries. But that’s only a sample of teachers in the SF Bay Area, so consider this merely anectodal.

My (limited) data suggests that this is true in non-sectarian private schools, too. Apparently, teachers are willing to work for less because quality of life at private schools is so much better that at public schools. (Due to things like newer buildings, better equipment, smaller class sizes, etc.)

First, teachers are NOT the only cost to the school. There are equipment costs, electricity, etc. Some of those remain relatively static, regardless of students, but some don’t. Having a desk for each student, and books, for example, will cost per student. There may be insurance costs as well. I have no idea what costs a school faces, but I know that teacher salary isn’t the only one.

Second, those students will have 5 or 6 classes a day, so you need to divide by that.

Sarkus, could you link to the budget page you found? I’m curious to know if there’s more detailed information anywhere… an itemized budget, if you would.

This is the FY2009 budget (2008-09 school year) document for the Detroit schools. That was a few years ago and it looks like they’ve lost about 10,000 students since then. The budget summaries start on page 29, then it breaks things down based on different categories and costs. The actual definition of those categories is at the end of the document.

Detroit has been losing (roughly) an average of 10,000 students per year for over a decade now. And they are projected to lose 16,000 more in the next 3 years. Which will actually solve a lot of the problem IF they are willing to eliminate the redundant services and unneeded buildings, etc. etc.

The biggest issue here is the school board, which like every other institution in the city of Detroit is corrupt to the core, and unwilling to cooperate on anything they themselves don’t propose. This is an institution that just lost its School Board President a couple of months ago after he was accused of sexual impropriety with a member of his staff, and who it was revealed afterwards is actually functionally illiterate. The fucking school board president, illiterate. I think that says everything about the situation in Detroit that you need to know. And he was elected to the position over a faculty member from the University of Michigan, because the people of Detroit don’t trust those academic types.

I don’t know what the average has been, but the linked FY2009 budget estimated they would have just under 100,000 students for '08-09. The CNN article posted by the OP says they have 87,000 right now.

Shrinking a school district is tough to do. You have to get rid of school buildings and other facilities, usually facing neighborhood opposition to the idea. Sometimes the best school to get rid of based on condition and maintenance costs is not the best school to close based on student performance and geographical logic. And as student populations drop, so does state and federal funding. Issues on top of that, such as what you mention in Detroit, just makes it that much harder. Seattle has been shrinking its school district for several years and its been a mess, and that’s been in the circumstance of a better economic backdrop.

Surely you jest! That’s not the Detroit I know.

Kidding aside, is there something this city can succeed at besides being corrupt and dysfunctional?

Like said above, the teachers aren’t all. The school real estate and often the buildings is built and maintained as a donation by the congregation. I’ve seen that in Lutheran, Baptist and Catholic Schools. Also, alumni donations tend to be higher as well. Public Schools get very little in the way of alumni donations and alumni leaving portions of their estate to them.

The land/facilities donation is part of what charters can use to bring costs down too. Also, from being a researcher in the books in my local district, a way public districts can get fleeced by real estate and contractors. It is funny how the one Board of Education rep from the area that needed to build a new high school was flooded with donations from real estate and contracting firms. Since this is a redistricting year (census even means BoE redistrict) lawyers weren’t unaware and the law firm that got the job donated to at least four board members and was campaign treasurer for one. I would bet Detroit has worse issues than my district on that.

Parental donations of time and items are also as high at a good sectarian schools as the best PTA’s in wealthy public schools. It sounds like a small thing, but a public school just can’t afford to hire or buy the time or items parents provide, so that also is something that good schools get “for free”, that bad schools can’t get at all.

You also have selective student assignment. My learning disabled child could not use the local sectarian schools since his needs went beyond what they would provide. The public school defunded his IEP (and waited to see if we’d sue - we didn’t) since actually teaching him would be more expensive than the average LD child. Often what is left in the public schools after collapse is the poor, the non-English speaking and the disabled who can’t afford a private option. These are also the most expensive children to educate per child!

Yes, there are other costs, but teacher salary SHOULD be the biggie. School buildings built, generally, decades ago, should not incur that much ongoing expense. There is a need for staff other than teachers, but in a well run district, IMO, the ratio of non-teacher staff to teachers should be relatively low, and many of the non-teachers should be relatively low paid positions like janitors and food staff.

Students take ~6 classes per day. But teachers SHOULD be teaching ~5 classes per day. So the impact is not (or should not be) as big as you seem to be suggesting.