The following comment was written in response to an earlier post about the decision by Roy Roberts, the emergency manager of Detroit’s schools, to close many more more schools.

I would like to hear what readers think of this issue.

My own take is that Governor Rick Snyder is antagonistic towards public schools, that he gets his policy ideas from rightwing think tanks that are antagonistic towards the public sector in general, and that he would–if he could–privatize public education in every jurisdiction. I think one need look only at Muskegon Heights and Highland Park to see districts where the governor sent in a viceroy to oversee the privatization of the public schools. No effort was made to develop a fiscal recovery plan, no help was forthcoming from the state.

Is Detroit shrinking or is there a purposeful plan to open privately managed charters to accelerate the collapse and privatization of the public school system?

This reader disagrees with my analysis.

While a lot of what is happening in Michigan is disturbing right now, one important factor to keep in mind is that the open enrollment movement (either formally implemented by districts opening up to open enrollment or informally by an ongoing number of Detroit kids who use a relative’s address to attend schools outside of Detroit) is shifting public school kids from Detroit to other public schools outside of Detroit, too, not just sending them to charters within the city limits. Additionally, part of what is happening in Detroit — and throughout the recession-pummeled state — is that the population numbers are down significantly and, as a result, the infrastructure is not right-sized for the number of enrolled students. Even suburban districts not competing with charters have closed schools in the past 15 years. Michigan is losing population (and seats in Congress), so we have fewer kids in schools and quite possibly don’t need as many school buildings, something we might need to learn more about before we blame Snyder.

The Free Press article you reference identifies the sharp decline in enrollment — note that reality vs. the projection for this year was off by about 12,000 kids.

As an example, compare these DPS enrollment numbers:

2007: 104,000

Spring 2011: 74,000

Fall 2011: 65,971 (Crain’s estimated an additional 3K in pre-K programs and 4K in district charters)

Fall 2012: 50,000

Any district that has lost half its students in five years necessarily needs fewer facilities with which to serve them. Any district that is taking that kind of loss and NOT reducing its operating costs would be spreading its resources too thin instead of concentrating them on the remaining children.

The city is dropping population, too — from around 900,000 in 2000 to about 715,000 in 2011 (per Huffington Post). A population drop that drastic is going to be felt in public school enrollment.

The Detroit deficit puts kids at a disadvantage. Reducing expenditures is one way we could actually strengthen the public schools instead of leaving them vulnerable to takeover. I would argue that before we hurry to demonize administrators for this, we consider how these closures might actually reduce waste and overhead, historic DPS problems.

A key question we should consider before we rail on Snyder (and believe me, there are things to rail about!), “What is the current capacity in each DPS school versus its enrollment? Is the balance between staff and kids just right? How might school closures help DPS do a better job of concentrating resources and supporting kids so they are more satisfied with their public schools and less vulnerable to — or interested in — charters and privatization?”