Part 2: Tonya Allen answers critics of CFDS recommendations

Earlier today, I shared the first in a series of blog posts responding to criticism toward the recommendations of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren. I wrote about academic achievement, returning control to the DPS board, and criticism of charters.

Here's part two.


They say DPS doesn’t deserve a bailout: DPS doesn't deserve a bailout unless it shows improved management. Legacy costs are not unique to Detroit and other school districts across the state are burdened the same legacy costs.

  • The state decided it was better equipped to manage the Detroit Public Schools system. It took a declining system that went from ~200,000 students and is now ~50,000 students. It is extraordinarily difficult to manage this decline with fixed costs and stay in the black. The state took responsibility for management, and thus needs to take responsibility for the ramifications of its actions, regardless of whether or not it was responsible for the context of declining demographics. Basically, if you break it, you buy it.
  • The state approved the bond series, which now costs the district $53 million annually and approximately $1,200 per schoolchild. It is contractually liable for the debt. If DPS doesn’t pay, the state will. In actuality, the state is paying for it through its per pupil allocation, and the kids are paying for it with a poor and crippling school district. The kids with the most needs are getting the least impact from state dollars.
  • Lastly, the critics are right. The large majority of traditional public school districts in the state have declining enrollments. They are all crippled by legacy debt. We are not doing anything proactively at the state level to help these districts shrink responsibly. We are paying retroactively. We are paying for it through the debt these districts are assuming or through special payments made into the underfunded MPSER retirement system that requires all traditional districts to pay and allows charters to opt out. The state is subsidizing the system. Again, we either will pay proactively, or we will pay retroactively.

They say we recommend dissolving the Education Achievement Authority: They say we don't care about turning around low-performing schools.  Our recommendation is to dissolve the inter-local agreement between DPS and Eastern Michigan University because we see it as a workaround.

  • We already have state policy to enact a SSRO/SSRD (State School Recovery Office/State School Recovery District). It is not being used effectively now for many reasons. Instead of establishing an entity outside of the current construct of the law, we are proposing that the state entity take responsibility for this effort. The EAA's infrastructure can migrate to the state level. The SSRO/SSRD should be focused on helping the 138 failing schools across the state in the bottom 5 percent on the top-to-bottom list versus solely working on 15 schools in Detroit.
  • Detroit has many failing schools. We need a strong strategy to turn around low-performing schools. We need a strategy that helps schools versus taking them over, if we are to transform the educational landscape in Detroit. We actually propose this, but Detroit needs more than a state strategy to address low-performing schools. We need a local strategy, too, one that equips leaders to help educate and remediate children and tr

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    ansform schools.

They say we aren’t elected, and thus we have no authority to make recommendations: The Coalition conducted private meetings. It did not hold open meetings for the public to observe and respond to our discussion.

  • As citizens of the United States of America, we have inalienable rights, which include the freedom of speech and the freedom to peaceably assemble. We are not an elected group — thus we can assemble and advocate privately, make recommendations and advocate for them. Isn’t that the way American society works? It is really likely for any private advocacy or think tank group to conduct open meetings during its negotiations? Why is this expected of us? We are not policymakers. We are citizens who gathered to make recommendations.
  • As civic leaders in this community, we take responsibility to improve conditions in our community. We hope our actions will inspire others to do the same. As Margaret Mead’s quotes suggests, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” 
  • Lastly, the issues that we are facing are so vast, it requires all of us to improve education for our children. We have shared responsibility in fixing the problem, or we will all share the same fate of an ever-increasing dysfunctional society.

They say it’s a "Skillman Coalition" or a "Governor’s Coalition:" Such a diverse group would not assemble without the sanctioning of an elected official or the purposeful maneuvering of one entity.


Rev. Wendell Anthony was one of 36 leaders who made up the Coalition's main body. A hundred more served on subcommittees.

  • The Coalition was assembled after a small group of 10 people decided it was time for us to do something different—to stop fighting against each other and to fight for our children and to win. It formed organically. To be successful, it required us to have a cross-section of diverse parties to address the issues facing our community, and thus we added additional names to help us cultivate a winning team and winning recommendations. It also required us to have a safe place to debate and disagree in a civil manner without consideration to the audience.
  • This is a Coalition of 36 members, all with unique perspectives and strong personalities. Each has contributed considerable perspectives, ideas, time, and resources — real and in-kind— to make this Coalition successful. To deemphasize their contributions is insulting and disrespectful. There is such thing as shared leadership, and the Coalition exhibited it throughout its entire tenure. I am not suggesting that the Skillman Foundation did not provide leadership, but so did so many others, especially the co-chairs of the broader Coalition and the subcommittees. We served alongside many honorable men and women of many organizations

Read the full report at and see the full picture of what the Coalition and its dozens of leaders believe is the right way forward to fix schools for all kids.

Tonya Allen is president & CEO of The Skillman Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @allen_tonya. Follow the Foundation @skillmanfound. And get in on the conversation about the recommendations by using #ChoiceIsOurs.