LANSING (WWJ/AP) – Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has named former Vice President of General Motors, Roy Roberts, as the next emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools.
Snyder introduced Roberts at an afternoon news conference at his office at Cadillac Place.
“The number one priority is providing the children of the Detroit Public Schools with a quality education, and for that to happen the school district must be financially sound,” Snyder said. “Roy Roberts’ problem solving skills, expertise and strong management and leadership skills will be of tremendous benefit to the students, teachers, administrators and families of the Detroit Public Schools.”
Roberts will have broader powers granted through a recent state law, including the ability to toss out union contracts as part of cost-cutting efforts. His contract is for one year and pays him $250,000.
Roberts said the job will allow him plenty of freedom.
“I don’t really have to respond to a school board. I don’t have to respond to the politics or the idiosyncrasies of a school board. And we’ve had people in this community that have served us well, but that means we can move faster, I think,” Roberts said.
“This is a mission for me. This is something I want to do,” he added.
Roberts will take the place of DPS EFM Robert Bobb, who has served in the position since March of 2009. His contract officially expires in June.
Bobb has closed dozens of schools, reworked vendor contracts and instituted other cost-cutting measures but has been unable to erase a massive budget deficit that now stands at more than $300 million. Detroit has lost about 100,000 students since 1997, when enrollment stood at 175,168.
A long-time community activist and a critic of Bobb, Agnes Hitchcock told WWJ Newsradio 950 she will be happy to see him go.
“Bobb closed up schools. There’s not many more schools left for Mr. Roberts to close up. Bobb, who claimed to be a financial manager nominated by Governor Granholm, drove the district even further into deficit,” Hitchcock said.
So what does she hope to see from the new manager?
“I’m hoping to see the students who have been driven from the Detroit Public school system a reason to return. I also hope that Mr. Roberts maybe can get the State to forgive some of the debt in the Detroit Public school system that was caused by the State takeover,” she said.
In a statement, Bobb said Roberts is an exceptionally strong choice for the job.
“His position as an icon in the African American community and in the City of Detroit will be of huge benefit to DPS and also a role model for DPS students. I am personally excited and our team is ready to engage fully on the transition to ensure a smooth changeover for parents, students and staff,” Bobb said.
The 72-year old Roberts currently is managing director and co-founding member of the private equity investment firm Reliant Equity Investors. He retired from GM in 2000.
Earlier Wednesday, the Detroit Institute of Arts announced that it is naming a gallery of contemporary African-American art after Roberts and his wife Maureen, who made a large donation to the museum. They are longtime philanthropists in the areas of the arts, culture and education.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.