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Largest downsizing in one year.

Few school districts want such a claim to fame. Detroit Public Schools is closing 34 schools in June, marking the largest downsizing in one year. But when facing a $200 million budget deficit, you can't dismiss a plan that saves $10 million annually. In fact, DPS officials say they could close as many as 110 schools over the next five years.

"This is the worst case scenario," says Henry Duvall, spokesman for the Council of Great City Schools. "Detroit is an anomaly."

Yet even amid plans to relocate 10,600 students to existing facilities for the fall semester, Kenneth Burnley, DPS's chief executive officer, treats the news as a boon rather than a bust. He dubbed the closings, "The New Vision for the New Reality."

Burnley, who already closed 21 schools since joining the district in 2000, intends to move school populations into the same building because, "it's important to keep teachers and students together," he says.

However, the district can't seem to control enrollment, which has dropped by 40,000 in the past decade, rivaling the famous flight to the suburbs in the 1960s and '70s. Local talk radio hosts field callers who blame charter school and privatization dreams for the decline--and city officials point to the fact Detroit lags behind the nation in economic recovery. Virtually no one holds the school system solely to blame for its quandary.

"Unfortunately, 30 years of a need to consolidate has fallen into the lap of one administration," says Greg Handel, senior director for workforce development at the Detroit Regional Chamber. "We understand the difficulty but ultimately think it's just something you have to do to get the district back into financial shape."

Detroit Gets Bail Out

The Michigan Department of Education approved the Detroit Public School's deficit elimination plan, meaning the district will receive a one-year loan of $160 million.

The five-year deficit elimination plan filed in February includes budget cuts aimed at eliminating last year's $48 million deficit and this year's multi-million budget shortfall.

The district has until June 1 to meet the education department's conditions such as getting its unions to approve voluntary wage cuts, sending monthly expenditure reports to the department, and showing the savings from job cuts and 34 school closures, effective in June.
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Title Annotation:Detroit Public Schools closing 34 schools
Author:Sturgeon, Julie
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:May 1, 2005
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