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Detroit Launches Search for Top District Staff; Faces School Closures

The 74,000-student Detroit district is looking for a superintendent, a chief academic officer, a chief operating officer, a budget director, and a director of special education. And that new executive team will have its work cut out for it; the state of Michigan recently approved a plan that will close 70 of the city's schools by 2014. The plan would leave 72 schools open, but would also result in high school class sizes as high as 60 students.

First, the superintendent search: Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for the district, is planning to leave his post in June. My former colleague, Dakarai Aarons, wrote an article about Bobb's work and Detroit's woes in 2009, the year Bobb was appointed.

Even though Bobb was brought in to deal with the district's finances, he began making decisions related to academics, prompting the school board to bring a lawsuit against him. In December, a judge ruled that the board should have control over academics. Bobb will be part of the 25-person panel who will be evaluating superintendent candidates.

But in the meantime, the district has a huge budget gap to fill, and the state has told the school system it must do so by consolidating services and closing schools. The Catch-22 is that the consolidation plan will almost certainly drive more students away from the district, which will mean less state aid and even more financial struggles.

The search committee will have a challenge, putting it mildly, to find a superintendent ready to step into this situation. Would it be any easier if the school system converts to mayoral control, as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has suggested?

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