By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters”
Roy Roberts – new Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools – took to the “Pancakes and Politics” stage before 400 movers and shakers with the swagger of John Wayne and talked about his game plan to turn DPS Around.
The 72-year-old retired General Motors executive was coaxed of a comfortable retirement by Governor Rick Snyder to take on one of the toughest assignments in public education.
The 50 years of “crap” that has proliferated and left Detroit Public Schools branded with a scarlet “W” as worst district in the nation has got to stop, Roberts said during the Michigan Chronicle event which airs as a special “Michigan Matters” 11 a.m. Sunday on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit.
“Superman isn’t coming,” Roberts said. “We have to make sure we are spending our money properly. We can’t be indiscriminate. We have some hard decisions to make and there will be some pain but must do it to get to the other side.”
He made an impassioned plea to leaders in the room to help DPS, saying he could not accomplish the job alone. And he said getting parents involved would be critical.
Roberts is the latest to step into the leadership role at DPS which has been plagued by growing student drop out rates, more unable to read and a growing financial deficit.
Roberts, who became an engineer and expert at turning around struggling auto plants, said he heard from many after taking on the job.
“A lot of my friends thought I was crazy,” he said. “Twenty-percent questioned my mental state by taking the job. And I realized the other 80 percent had given up on DPS.”
“I haven’t given up on the 72,000 kids. We are going to get this right as we don’t have any other option.”
The DPS assignment “is the most important thing I have ever done and am most excited about.”
“DPS is broken,” Roberts said. “There is no other cute way to say it. If we don’t like our station in life then we need to change it that is what I am here to help do.”
Despite the fact the district’s deficit rose under predecessor Robert Bobb’s watch, Roberts refused to criticize.
“Rick Wagoner (former CEO of GM) didn’t create the problems at GM and Robert Bobb didn’t create them at DPS,” Roberts said.
Roberts mentioned the district’s $1.2-billion budget for the school year that projects cutting $200 million from the deficit and reducing wages by 10%.
“Right now our kids aren’t prepared. As we sit here having pancakes and sausages there are kids around the world getting a better education who are going to eat our kids’ breakfast, lunch and dinner if we don’t change.”
He then answered the question on everyone’s mind.
“My ‘little brother’ Sam Logan (Michigan Chronicle publisher who has made DPS a centerpiece of his newspaper’s coverage) said I’m the right man for the job at the right time… You’re damn right I am!”
Carol Cain is Senior Producer and Host of “Michigan Matters.” You can read her columns on business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-355-7126. Watch “Michigan Matters” 11 a.m. Sunday on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit.
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