By the time students graduate from the Detroit Public Schools, they have likely endured many years of frustrations, indignities and disappointments, but Mayor Mike Duggan revealed in his State of the City address Tuesday night that, for many Detroiters, the challenges didn’t end with graduation.
Until recently, graduates lost job opportunities when they struggled to get copies of their transcripts from the district.
Duggan, during his roughly hourlong speech, said officials with the city’s Detroit At Work job training program discovered the transcript problem when they were talking with the heads of major hospitals in the city.
The hospital leaders said they were having difficulty filling entry-level positions despite Detroit’s high unemployment rate because Detroiters who applied couldn’t produce their high school transcripts.
City officials were skeptical, Duggan recalled. “So they went over to the Detroit Public Schools and do you know what they found? One million paper transcripts in a warehouse, in a school system run by an emergency manager who was dealing with everything he or she could at the schools.”
It had been taking two to three months for hospitals to get applicants’ transcripts, Duggan said, and “by the time they got the transcript, somebody else had the job.”
The Detroit At Work program contacted Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather who “got really mad,” Duggan said, and ordered the district to speed up the process.
Soon, one local business leader donated scanners so transcripts could be digitized and another business leader marshaled his employees to volunteer to physically scan the documents. The issue is being resolved, Duggan said, but he seemed alarmed that the problem existed in the first place.
“How many barriers do we have to erect in front of the folks in this town?” he asked.
The mayor’s speech largely focused on economic and community issues. Since he has very little authority or influence over schools, it’s no surprise that he didn’t spend much time on education.
But he did tout the Detroit Promise scholarship program, which guarantees two years of community college tuition to all Detroit grads as well as four-year tuition to qualifying grads who have good grades and test scores.
“If you apply yourself, college is going to be available to any resident of the city of Detroit who graduates from a Detroit high school,” Duggan said. “It’s one of the privileges of growing up in the city of Detroit.”
He also reiterated his recent vow to fight forced school closings by the state. State officials have threatened to close 25 schools in the city after years of poor test scores but Duggan said closures won’t improve education.
“Here’s what I know for sure,” he said. “We have 110,000 school children in this city, which means we need 110,000 seats in quality schools. Closing a school doesn’t add a single quality seat. All it does is bounce our children around from place to place.”
Duggan said he and the newly elected school board “know we need to improve these schools but before you close a school, you need to make sure there’s a better alternative and I’ve been encouraged by the conversations between the school board leadership and the governor’s office this week. I’m optimistic we’re gonna work things out but I want everybody in this community to know that I will be standing with [School Board] President Iris Taylor and the Detroit school board on this entire school closure issue.”