Although they do not receive the same amount of attention as the struggling Detroit school district, Inkster public schools display a host of problems that demand solutions.
Many school officials and commentators blame the surrounding charter schools for attracting many of Inkster's students.
"We know they're flooding us with charter schools," Rev. George Williams, a member of the Inkster Board of Education, told the Detroit Free Press. "And the state knows it's not fair."
Enrollment in Inkster schools has fallen from 3,000 in 1990 to 1,400 this year, as have the corresponding state appropriations. Today, half of all eligible children within the boundaries of this Wayne County district choose not to attend the public schools.
Furthermore, many of the students who do attend fail to graduate. The problem has gotten so bad that the district has offered prizes- including bicycles and VCRs- to parents whose children attend school.
Meanwhile, the number of charter schools in the surrounding area has increased to eight, providing Inkster students with educational opportunities outside of the public school district. Charter schools receive funding from the government, but operate outside the authority of their corresponding school district. Last year, about 500 Inkster students switched to charter schools.
Parents also hold the option of sending their children to schools in neighboring districts. These schools attracted about 170 Inkster children last year.
Over the last several years, the Inkster school district has posted significant budget deficits, forcing it to cut $1.5 million from school programs and its staff. Traditional activities, such as the Inkster High School Marching Band, have lost the important status that they once held in the community.
"The band was huge," Michele Nelms, an Inkster majorette in 1969, told the Detroit Free Press. "When I see the homecoming parade and see those sparse numbers, my heart falls."
The band now features only 43 members, including middle school students.
The cuts culminated in this year's closing of the Blanchette Center for Education, a magnet school that offered a unique curriculum to students.
Once a source of pride, Inkster schools no longer earn the respect of outsiders. "The school system bears the name of Inkster and that stigmatizes the city," Mayor Edward Bivens, Jr. has stated.
This reputation- along with mediocre test scores- has prompted parents to find alternatives for their children. "I haven't even considered sending my son to Inkster Public Schools at all," Marcia Cozart told the Free Press. "I haven't heard a lot of good things about Inkster schools." She sends her 10 year-old son to a charter school.
Recognizing the district's troubles, the state of Michigan has directed Inkster to remedy its financial crisis, and Bivens has articulated his desire to assert mayoral control over the district. The district has had five superintendents in the last four years.
"I would welcome the opportunity to take it over," Bivens told the Free Press. "We've got to do something."