Detroit Public Schools Testimony Opening Statement
Kenneth Stephen Burnley
Chief Executive Office
Detroit Public Schools
July 1, 2000 – June 30- 2005
Good morning. I am Kenneth Stephen Burnley; I was CEO of the Detroit Public
Schools (DPS) from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2005. I voluntarily and enthusiastically join
you this morning to answer the questions you raised in an article published by the
Detroit News on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009. The article was headlined “DPS Overspent
Millions” in real estate deals.
The truth is: “We saved the taxpayers of Detroit millions” through real estate
transactions that were smart, diligent, effective, efficient, carefully constructed. They
required numerous business clearances from attorneys and a series of other
professionals prior to my providing business clearance. The millions lost occurred
from 1994 to 1999 when the School Board did not begin spending the citizen-
approved bond funds. It was much more expensive to do business in 2000 to 2005
dollars in an expanding economy. We estimate conservatively that DPS lost at least
$120 million in purchasing power from 1994 to 2000.
The opening statements you and your staff just read into the record remain
incomplete, inaccurate and misleading. My former staff, Dr. Francis and Mr. Moore,
provided you the answers to your questions. I understand you still feel there are
discrepancies; I would like to know specifically what you believe those discrepancies
During my tenure as CEO, I wanted the very best for the students, parents and
taxpayers of Detroit. I collectively pursued that outcome with honestly, integrity and
urgency. I was an efficient, effective and worthy steward of the taxpayer’s money. I am
very proud of the work that my administration accomplished in general, and with the
bond program, specifically.
I continue to want the very best for Detroit schools today. What happens to the
students of Detroit matters because it directly affects their future and the future of this
city? It will be the ultimate test of our legacy. What challenges will we leave our
children; what will be their quality of life? It is a daunting task when we consider the
“savage inequities” suffered by the students of the Detroit Public Schools.
I hope when we conclude today, you will agree we share the same goal: to
provide the children, parents and taxpayers of the Detroit Public Schools with world
class instruction, an administration that embraces honesty and integrity; and a healthy
and safe school environment.
I was born, raised and educated in Detroit; I attended MacDowell Elementary and
Mumford High School and I received an excellent education. I have three degrees from
the University of Michigan: BS, MA and Ph.D. Detroit Public Schools and the University
of Michigan are the two Institutions that prepared me well for life. I am a proud alumnus
of both; however, it all began right here in DPS. This is my home, this is my city; I love
I have had a distinguished career in public education; the following is a brief
synopsis: particularly my experience with bond programs:
• Served as CEO in DPS from 2000 to 2005; oversaw a $1.56-billion bond program.
Built 21 new schools, upgraded $400 million of schools and district buildings and
wired and networked in excess of $250 million of schools and district buildings
• Served as Superintendent of Schools in Colorado Springs, CO, an urban district of
35,000 students from 1987 to 2000; oversaw, in today’s dollars, a $300-million bond
program. Built eight new schools, upgraded many others and wired and network the
entire district. We passed the bond program and new millage after both had not
been accomplished in 40 years.
• Served as Superintendent of Schools in Fairbanks, Alaska from 1981 to 1987;
oversaw a $200-million bond program; built eight schools, upgraded all other
schools and the city auditorium; and installed technology. We passed an additional
bond program of $60 million to add to a $120-million program so as not to cut back
or poorly design new school buildings in the wake of a gas pipeline and very hot
building boom resulting in rapidly rising prices.
• Served as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in the Waverly
Public School District from 1978 to 1981.
• Served Ypsilanti Public Schools as Director of the Title VII Program while
desegregating the school district 1974 to 1978, principal of the first alternative school
in Michigan and assistant principal of Ypsilanti High School; Served as a supervisor,
coordinator and teacher.
During my career, I was recognized as the 1993 National Superintendent of the
Year. I have stayed in every leadership position for an average of eight years. I left on
my own terms. I was the seventh superintendent in 11 years in all three positions; my
predecessors lasted an average 1.5 years.
The 2000-2005 Detroit Public School Story
District Conditions July 1 2000
I have a rather astounding story to share about DPS, it includes but is not limited to:
Being asked, in fact begged for several months to come home to serve as the CEO of
DPS. I thought long and hard about it: The governor had dismissed the elected urban
school board for reasons that are well chronicled. For some this meant the perceived
loss of the right to vote – a major issue:
1. As soon as I was appointed, a vocal minority of the disenfranchised group
approached me and said “We really wanted you to get the job; we were
pleased you did. You were the best candidate. However, you know we
cannot give you credit for doing anything good or right. If we do, that would
send a message the takeover is OK with us --it is not.” A few years prior, the
citizens and leaders of Cleveland, Ohio, upset with their school board,
developed a five-year plan requiring the removal and replacement of the
Board with a CEO. They took it to a vote of the people with the caveat to
return in five years to vote an additional five years or return to the former
structure. It passed; the public rancor Detroit felt, I do not believe occurred in
2. I graduated from Mumford High School in 1960: I came back to interview for
the position of CEO of the Detroit Public Schools in 2000, exactly 40 years
from the date of my graduation. Here is some of what I found. While not true,
it was as if the district had stood still since my graduation 40 years earlier.
a. The grass at Murray Wright High School was above my knees, the fences
were busted off their mounts, rusted out and lying on the ground. The
tennis court grass was growing through the asphalt; the nets were sagging
or lying on the ground. The basketball rims were rusted and bent with no
nets on them; most of the schools throughout the district looked the same.
b. The athletic fields were replete with glass, rocks and bottles; our kids were
still trying to play on them. Bleachers were crumbling: One, in fact, at M.
L. King High School, was on the verge of collapse; I condemned it
immediately. Many schools were dirty, and it would have been worse if
not due to an $80-million cleanup effort led in 1999 led by Michael
c. There were 28,000 backed-up work orders; it took one week to complete a
work order. There were no trades vehicles, the trades worked out of their
d. The buses were red tagged; the fleet was about to be shut down by the
state for violating state safety rules.
e. The schools either were not wired, or they were wired with different,
incompatible or poor cabling.
f. There were fictitious names on the payroll.
g. People were milking the system for workers compensation claims.
h. There was a need to start and complete over 300 audits.
i. Because the payroll system was broken, 1,000 to 2,000 employees were
wrapped around the SCB each payday because their checks were non-
existent or inaccurate.
j. The BHRIS systems were on the verge of collapse, $14 million was
invested but poorly, requiring a decision to scrap it and start over, or fix
the new People Soft System.
k. There was no data warehouse.
l. We were a self-insured district but not a single building was insured.
m. We were not reserved in areas of normally required accounting practices.
n. There were unhoused students on the east side of the district while
schools for less than 100 students were open on the west side.
o. There were 20 different reading programs in place, a lack of a systemic
approach to literacy, the need for professional development, the need for
quality control and the need to professionally develop faculty, principals’
staff and administrators on how to use data to improve instruction.
p. There were 22 whole school reforms models in place.
q. There was no plan for software programs to support curriculum and
instruction, the mission of the district.
r. Countless roofs, boilers, parking lots, swimming pools, windows, doors,
playscapes, were in complete disrepair or not functioning.
s. Power upgrades were needed to prevent constant power outages and
prepare buildings for new equipment.
t. Lunches were cold; the district worked from old central kitchens, there
were no warming ovens in the schools.
u. Shockingly, here was no strategic plan and no plan for bond program
v. There was a pool of money ($103 million) called a fund balance; however,
when we reserved properly, the free fund balance was less than $22
w. There was a need to substantially reduce the number of faculty and staff.
x. Charter School organizations were salivating to take Detroit Public School
students, even though research indicated that charters as a whole do not
perform as well as public schools;
y. DPS was under a federal asbestos removal lawsuit
z. Audit reports and budget documents were substandard.
We summarized the above findings and more in a 100-day report; the report was
presented to our Advisory Board and the House and Senate Education Committees.
During our tenure, we addressed the issues listed above and many others by the
appropriate use of capital and operating funds. It was clear, however, there would be
plenty of challenges for the next administration.
Bond Program Role
My role in the bond program oversight was as follows:
1. Chaired numerous meetings of the of the Program Management Team
2. Chaired meetings between the PMT and DPS Divisions
3. Participated in meetings of the Community, Civic and Corporate Committee
4. Hired experienced, talented and ethical people to oversee the bond program
5. Required lively discussions between all the advisory experts; legal, procurement,
PMT, District Leadership, Bond Council, Executive Director Bond program
6. Sought constant due diligence
7. Sought recommendations with alternatives
8. Required business clearances and recommendations from PMT, Procurement,
Legal, the Executive Director of the bond program and the deputy CEO prior to
my signing final business clearance to start contract development
9. Relied, in the final analysis, on the advice of bond program leaders.
Capital Improvement Program Accomplishments
Building Facilities to Improve Student Achievement
School facilities affect learning. Spatial configurations, equipment, noise, heat, cold,
light and air quality bear on students’ and teachers’ ability to perform. In 2000, Detroit
Public Schools had 270 facilities with an average age of 62, (20 years older than the
national average). More significant than the age of the facilities was the physical
improvement needs resulting from the lack of regular maintenance. In addition, many of
the schools didn’t conform to modern educational needs in the areas of technology,
classroom size, science and art rooms or computer labs.
In 1994, the citizens of Detroit recognized the critical need to address the
challenges of improving the district’s facilities and approved a $1.5 billion bond to fund a
capital improvement program, (CIP).
Following six years of slower-than-desired progress, the capital improvement
program was reshaped under my leadership. The primary goal set forth in 2000 was
to improve student achievement. To support that goal, a new team of professionals
managing the CIP began aggressively designing and building new facilities where
demographics demonstrated need and by making sweeping district-wide upgrades
to address critical facility needs.
This aggressive approach has resulted in over 1.5 million square feet of new school
space being built and district-wide improvements benefiting most DPS students and
Under the Capital Improvement Program new facilities opened across the District
• Eight (8) new elementary schools
• Six (6) elementary/middle schools received major freestanding additions
• Two (2) new middle schools
• Three new (3) citywide high schools
• Two (2) historic high schools are being completely remodeled
CIP District-Wide Improvements
District-wide improvements were prioritized to address the most critical deficiencies
in existing facilities.
The number of schools and planned improvements included the following:
• Information technology (wiring and computers/equipment) 128
• Fire alarm and security systems 81
• Energy efficient steam boilers and/or burners 23
• Roofing Projects 103
• Exterior door projects 77
• Window replacements 82
• Power upgrades 152
• Bathroom upgrades 31
• Kitchen upgrades 118
• Swimming pool upgrades 8
• Exterior bleachers 2
• Playgrounds or Playscapes 67
• Athletic fields 19
The overall goal of non-instructional facility improvements was to make district
business operations more efficient and effective.
A major project was the conversion of the old Thorn Apple Valley processing plant
and warehouse into the Site Maintenance Service Center. The existing operations
that were centralized and consolidated into the Thorn Apple site were the Central
Warehouse Distribution Hub, Food Services, Environmental Health and Safety
Division, Information Technology, and Audio Visual, Printing and Transportation
Maintenance Hubs were created on the east and west sides of Detroit. The
consolidation made the district more streamlined and responsive to area schools.
Maintenance facilities include:
• Thorn Apple Central Maintenance Hub $25.9 million
• Westside Maintenance Hub $ 3.3 million
• Eastside Maintenance Hub $ 4.3 million
School Center Building Relocation
Another major project was the district headquarters relocation. The district sold the
Schools Center Building (SCB) on Woodward and moved its offices to the New
Center Area, buying and leasing space in the Fisher, New Center One, Albert Khan
and the Lothrop Landing buildings.
The annual operating budget for the SCB was an estimated $3.5 to $4 million and its
renovation would cost an estimated $11 million. The building had extensive code
violations and limited parking and costs associated with security, utilities and
The benefits of the move to the New Center area include:
• The creation of the Detroit Public Welcome Center, a meeting and resource
center for parents on the first floor of the New Center One building
• The $37 million in construction, renovation and moving costs were financed with
Capital Improvement Program dollars, not general operating dollars.
• The $9.2 million sale of the SCB helped the District close a budget shortfall for
• The SCB had 25 parking spaces; my administration negotiated 100 parking spot
from Wayne State; the New Center complex provided 700 parking spots in
• The District saved more than $3.5 to $4 million of operating expenses annually in
Industry Education Opportunities for Students
The CIP provided tremendous real work experiences for DPS students through the
creation of the Workforce and Career Development (WACE) program. WACE was a
comprehensive program designed to introduce students to the array of professions
and trades in the construction industry. At the close of the 2003 school year, the
program had nearly 100 students working for 22 different companies. There were
ten academic majors represented by these students including Architecture;
Business; Computer Aided Design (CAD); Carpentry; Civil Engineering; Electricity
Construction; Electronics; Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning; Painting and
Decorating; Plumbing; and Pipefitting. The students matriculated into the program
from 16 different Detroit public “home” high schools, one career and technical center
and 3 universities. For two consecutive years, the WACE program was recognized
with the GARDE award by the Great Lakes Construction Alliance for outstanding
accomplishment as a pre-apprenticeship program and for a 30 percent level of
female participation in the program.
Economic Impact of the Capital Improvement Program
Under my leadership, the CIP provided opportunities for minority and Detroit based
businesses to participate in the design and building of the district’s facilities. The
CIP processed nearly $20 million in payments on a monthly basis. Since 2001,
nearly all of the $1.5 billion was spent, $1,263,675,266. Certified Minority Owned
Businesses (MBE) received 44 percent of those dollars. Detroit Based Businesses
(DBBE) received 70 percent of those dollars. In essence, the CIP resulted in
schools being built by minority and Detroit businesses for Detroit students.
Continuing the Momentum
The $1.5 billion CIP was projected to conclude in 2006. This capital improvement
program resulted in more new construction and renovations than any other program
in the history of the Detroit Public Schools. When these funds are depleted, a
substantial amount of work will remain outstanding to bring all facilities up to
As national studies have proven, the condition of school facilities does affect
academic outcome. While it takes time to conduct empirical studies, interviews with
Detroit educators, parents and students located in the newly constructed, equipped
and renovated facilities provided testimony that strongly supports the position that
the current Detroit Public Schools Capital Improvement Program built facilities to
improve academic outcome for the families in the district.
In my other two superintendent positions, I not only had a written plan but a
detailed written assessment of every building. We accomplished the same planning
and building assessments here in DPS. We blended outside personnel with many
outstanding district personnel and built a wonderful program management team. Then
we found and hired the right person as executive director to oversee the program, Dr.
Robert Francis. He had a wealth of experience and background, is of high integrity and
loves cities. He is now the Vice President for Facilities for Drexel University in
Philadelphia; just as he lives in Philadelphia, he lived in downtown Detroit. Dr. Francis
is a wonderfully talented man. He works to save resources and create opportunities for
students like the apprenticeship programs for students in the bond program.
Robert Moore was my deputy CEO a DPS; he is now deputy superintendent of
Oakland Schools (County). He worked with me for eight years in Colorado Springs on
the highly successful bond program. He knows how to run bond programs and get the
best results for the students and taxpayers. He is a highly ethical military man having
graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and served as a Coast Guard Commander.
In 1996 we started a comparable bond program in Colorado Springs: By 2000, four
years later, we completed the program and closed the books. DPS passed the bond in
1994; by 2000 they had nothing to show the taxpayers.
Regarding getting our messages out, we engaged the best PR firms to communicate
information to people the way they liked to receive messages. Some of our internal
efforts included internal public relations campaigns, newsletters, knocking on doors,
going to the churches, working with all groups, appearing on radio, television, quarterly
editorial board meetings each at least four times per year at our own invitation and
many other times to address media issues.
We used our own radio station; we worked closely with parents, ministers, NAACP,
Urban League, the Chamber, and Detroit Renaissance, PTAs, Hispanic, Hmong,
Chaldean, Arab and Bangladeshi groups. We held parent seminars in the Welcome
Center complete with homework support and dinner.
It was challenging to get our positive messages through the noise of the anger and
chaos caused by those opposed to the takeover. As we know, the media does not do
stories on planes that land safely – likewise, many of our good stories went uncovered
despite our aggressive efforts to promote them.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide my opening statement; I will now address
Kenneth Stephen Burnley