River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman says he didn’t ask to be a candidate for Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
A recruiter called. Answering that call has simultaneously put him under intense scrutiny and made him feel like he has a story to tell.
“I felt like I am the slum dog millionaire of education,” said Coleman of his getting the call.
Coleman says he grew up surrounded by poverty in Detroit and went to Western High School.
“I can remember being at the bus stop as a kid and thinking the schools knew the homes we were coming from and didn’t care,” said Coleman.
He says that perception set some of his friends on tragic paths. He wondered how their self-destructive decisions could have been prevented.
“When I went into college, I thought, if money didn’t matter, what work would be the most impactful? I decided I would become a teacher,” said Coleman.
He became an English teacher, an Assistant Superintendent in Detroit Public Schools and later Superintendent of River Rouge Schools.
“It was without question about to close,” said Coleman.
“For the teachers I would say he was a morale crusher,” said David Kocbus, Former River Rouge Education Association President.
He is sending out warning to Detroit teachers. He says in 2011 River Rouge teachers accepted a 15% salary cut to save the district. In 2012 Coleman became superintendent.
In the 2013-2014 school year he approved more than $100,000 in out of state travel.
7 Action News asked him about that spending, which came when the district had a more than $1 million deficit.
Critics provided receipts that show people who attended a conference in Las Vegas traveled in a limousine. They say it would have been more practical to use a shuttle van.
“The rate on the limousine was cheaper because it allowed us all to go at one time, rather than paying for individual cabs,” said Coleman.
The money used to pay for the travel was federal funds dedicated to things like professional development and teacher recruitment.
“It is a slap in the face,” said Kocbus, suggesting it would have made more sense to send more teachers who had sacrificed for the district to conferences, by going local.
“Those teachers who went to these workshops and gained valuable skills, that they brought back to the classroom, it wasn’t available in Michigan. That is why those conferences were chosen,” said Coleman.
Then there is a receipt that is being sent to Detroit teachers by people who claim Coleman bought condoms and coconut tequila during that work trip. Seven Action News did some digging and found out he is telling the truth. The receipt being sent around was turned in by someone else on the trip.
Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy bailey says teachers are frustrated that Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather, who dedicated her career to the city, is not being considered for the position.
“I know some of the teachers are going to ask, why did he leave Detroit?” said Bailey.
“How do you remain in a place that you see poor decisions are being made that you cannot influence?” said Coleman.
Coleman says under emergency management children weren’t the focus, so he took an opportunity in River Rouge. Coleman says the focus should be on what he achieved in River Rouge: academic growth, schools families drive to from other districts, and a balanced budget.
In River Rouge even critics say, he connects with kids.
“Enrollment increased while he was there and I think a lot of the students like him,” said Kocbus.
“The DFT, with all due respect should focus on the positives that are happening in River Rouge and hope that if I come to Detroit that those same things can happen here,” said Coleman.
Coleman is one of two candidates being considered. The other is Dr. Nikolai Vitti, the current superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida.