The reaction of Robert Bobb to Dan Rather's scathing documentary about the disastrous state of the city's schools was pathetic – and typical.
"Rather's report like so many other national reporters who have parachuted in to chronicle what they deem to be the death of Detroit or the 'disgrace of a nation,' grossly and completely neglects an entire year or more of transformative efforts to change the system, including a five-year academic plan," said Bobb who became the emergency financial manager of the district in 2009.
It's the oldest trick in the book. Blame the messenger.
It's worth noting that Rather spent the better part of two-years in the city schools with Bobb's blessing. During that time, local media was all but locked out of the schools, probably because they would have asked the tough questions and demanded real answers. Instead we were given bromides from Bill Cosby.
Bobb co-operated with the out-of-town filmmakers, even appearing in the piece, taking the time to blame the problems on the school board. I suspect Bobb was hoping Rather would wrap him in a Superman cape, declaring him the savior of Detroit's children.
In my estimation Rather did him a favor. Because if you look at Bobb's two year tenure you'd have to flunk him as Gov. Rick Snyder did.
"He didn't deliver," said one politico familiar with the governor's thinking who exchanged his candor for confidentiality. "The numbers just didn't add up."
The best work -- bar none-- on Bobb and the Detroit schools has been done by Chastity Pratt of the Free Press. If you need a quick primer, here's a selection of her stories. They include everything from finances to grade fixing.
I'll give Bobb this much. He was willing to walk into a cesspool of patronage and pettiness. He worked hard and he did so, we've come to find out, while battling cancer.
Among his accomplishments Bobb likes to point out that he has instituted more reading and math for students, a $500 million bond to build new schools and the privatization of 45 other schools instead of closing them.
But look closer. When Bobb came to Detroit he was charged with closing a $219 million hole in the DPS budget. Despite near dictatorial powers, the deficit went the other way, ballooning to $327 as of last June. Experts expect that number to grow.
The school district now spends one third of its budget to cover the cost of short term loans. And he new emergency manager – retired GM executive Roy Roberts -- must find another $50 million to cover unpaid bills when he takes over later this month. Add onto that another $56 million a judge order DPS to repay teachers in deferred pay and you're looking at a doubling of the debt under Bobb in just two years.
He has never offered the citizens or the local media a coherent answer on his voodoo financing.
As for building new schools, one has to wonder why the poorest city in the country would assume that kind of debt when the student body is fleeing to the suburbs. I went to Cody High for count day this year. The grounds were filthy and garbage strewn, the windows broken, the graffiti a year old. How about some money for a janitor?
Bobb points to his increased emphasis on reading. And that's a good thing. But it is worth noting that the 3rd grade MEAP scores fell this year with Bobb in control of the academics.
At the beginning of thus school year the state took the unprecedented step of withholding $5 million in federal money from DPS because of mismanagement of its Special Education program. Buses didn't show up to pick up school children. Specialists weren't hired. The most vulnerable children languished.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, I asked for the contracts of the company Bobb handpicked to run Special Ed. I'm still waiting for those papers.
I want a superman too. Who doesn't for the sake of the children? But I agree with Rather. The system was and still is a disgrace. Here's to hoping the new man knows how to add and subtract.
I reached out to Robert Bobb to grade himself but he hasn't called me back.