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Detroit Public Schools pinning budget hopes on 5,000 new students


Consider this some free advertising.

Right now, Detroit Public Schools is proposing its most optimistic budget in years:

  • No teacher layoffs
  • The return of after-school programming, at least in some schools
  • Minimal increases in class sizes
  • New parenting resources
  • A little more money for instruction: about $2 million in total 

But it’s all riding on whether the district can lure 5,000 students away from competitors.
That’s a big bet to make.

Demographers say, no way. They predict DPS will actually enroll fewer kids this fall.

But DPS spokesperson Michelle Zdrodwski says they’re rolling out an aggressive marketing campaign.

“We have a new marketing initiative that takes it down to the buildings themselves. We’re going to let each building market themselves to the neighborhoods that surrounds them.”

She says the district’s banking on parents feeling unhappy enough with their charter school experience that they’d consider sending their kids back to DPS.

The district’s advertising will highlight rising test scores (up from some of the worst in the nation), and that hoped-for return of after-school programming.

Still, the proposed budget does have some significant cuts:

  • 6 school buildings would close
  • Hundreds of school employees would get the ax
  • That includes major cuts in support services, with a $74 million reduction overall

But the whole picture could change if those 5,000 new students don’t show up.
And school board member Annie Carter admits she’s dubious the marketing will work.

“We can easily get 2,000 [additional students]. But 5,000? That other 3,000? You’re going to have do some really, really pulling.”

What kind of cuts will be necessary if the district does fall short?

Nobody's saying.

District administrators wouldn’t give details at a Wednesday school budget hearing.

Spokesperson Michelle Zdrodwski did say that teacher layoffs would have to be revisited if the proposed budget - and the 5,000 new students - don’t materialize.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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