Detroit Schools’ Deficit Appears Linked to Adding Staff During Enrollment Decline, Says Analyst

Increased Hiring Helped Precipitate Subsequent Layoffs

For Immediate Release

MIDLAND – A review of staffing and enrollment figures at the Detroit Public Schools suggests that the district engaged in unrealistic hiring of new personnel in recent years, even as enrollment was in a persistent, long-term decline, finds Andrew J. Coulson, senior fellow in education policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. According to Coulson, the district’s decision to lay off 3,200 employees this summer is a belated and painful response to falling revenues that calls into question the district’s ability to address the harder and more important task of improving student achievement.

Coulson observes that although there are disparities between DPS figures and state government numbers, both sets of data indicate a similar disconnect between personnel and enrollment:

  • DPS says that prior to the layoffs, it employed 23,800 people. This is about 1,700 more than national statistics show it employed in 1996-97. During the same period, Detroit’s student enrollment decreased by more than 35,000, from 183,447 to about 147,800.

  • The state government’s Center for Educational Performance and Information gives employment and enrollment figures for the district that differ from the district’s own, but show a similar trend: Between the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years (the most recent, comparable years available), DPS hired 1,580 more people to serve 13,464 fewer students.

"However you slice the numbers, the district appears to have increased its workforce during a period of enrollment declines," notes Joseph Lehman, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center. "It just isn’t facing market realities. Internal reforms, such as those suggested by Detroit Public Schools CEO Ken Burnley, are regularly met with resistance, and worst of all, student achievement remains low.

"The real issue, then, isn’t whether Detroit should have an ‘elected’ or ‘appointed’ school board; it’s whether Detroit’s leaders will stand up and demand educational alternatives that allow the city’s children to escape a troubled system, while forcing substandard schools to either shape up or close their doors."

Coulson’s findings are detailed in a Mackinac Center op-ed published on July 27 in the Detroit Free Press (see "Detroit students need choice: School system's problems reveal signs of a monopoly" at emack27_20040727.htm.)

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