DETROIT (WXYZ) - Since joining Detroit Public Schools in May, Emergency Manager Roy Roberts has made bringing down the district’s massive deficit one of his top priorities. But for many parents and students, the numbers that most concern them most aren’t found on a balance sheet.
Last year alone, according to DPS data, students endured almost 600 cases of bullying, more than 300 assaults, about 50 weapons incidents, 30 cases of criminal sexual conduct, 9 bomb threats, and a drive-by shooting.
"We've put a lot of emphasis on safe schools," Roberts said recently.
"We know that kids cannot learn if they’re not in a safe environment."
And Roberts has made strides in making schools safer. His office says that crime during the first two weeks of school was down almost 40%, but it’s still a daily struggle for teachers and students
A mother of two Detroit students tells 7 Action News that she can’t send her sons to school without worrying about their safety. Her one son Troy was bullied for his size, she says, and her special needs son Felton was assaulted in a school bathroom.
"Why is my special needs child even being touched by another student," she said.
"He hasn’t been to school because I’m scared for him."
Roberts hasn’t had to worry about feeling safe. Since he was appointed the district's Emergency Manger in May, he’s had two full-time district police officers assigned to protect him, and its costing the district a small fortune in overtime.
"Whenever I think I need help, I take help," Roberts told 7 Action News.
And he’s taken a lot. For the first eight months of the year, district police officers racked up more than $80,000 just in overtime to protect Roberts and his predecessor Robert Bobb. Bobb left the district earlier this year.
Roberts’ two guard routinely work long nights that sometimes stretch into the next morning. They even provide weekend protection. On a Saturday in October, one guard’s day started at 7 AM, and didn’t end until 12 hours later. He wasn’t alone. Roberts’ second security guard was working that Saturday, too. He didn’t leave until 12:30 the next morning—logging almost 17 hours of overtime.
On a weekend in June, records show guards worked without sleep: 62 straight hours to protect Roberts, from 6 AM June 1 st to 8 PM on June 3 rd. The records don’t show where Roberts and his security traveled that weekend. But we’ve learned his officers are often with him at church on Sundays.
Some district parents say it's an example of misplaced priorities in the district.
"How do you get money to pay for around the clock security guards when they don’t even have tissue (in classrooms)," asked one.
"If you got the money to pay them, you got the money to place these kids in the right settings."
7 Action News contacted school chiefs in Boston, Columbus, Phoenix, Baltimore and Memphis to ask about their security detail: but none of them have one.
Roberts defends his security expenses, calling them "peanuts" compared to the district's overall financial struggles.
"I think it’s an appropriate expense because, for the last 20 years, every superintendent has had drivers and protection, and I don’t know anyone who would take this job that didn’t have that," he said.
But for parents worried about their children’s safety at school, dollars spent protecting Roberts just can’t be justified.
"These kids are more in danger than anybody," said one parent.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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