- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

DETROIT (AP) | Bill Cosby had heard about the tough-as-nails and uncompromising man tackling fraud and improving education throughout Detroit’s public schools, and wanted to help.

So the 72-year-old actor, comedian and activist decided to loan the district his celebrity as Detroit tries to hold off plummeting enrollment amid a fiscal crisis that a few weeks ago spurred suggestions of a possible bankruptcy.

“All around the United States of America — in the cities and the counties — our public education is suffering and has been suffering. Cuts, cuts, cuts. No jobs in the area,” Mr. Cosby told reporters Tuesday as he began a day that would take him from shooting commercials to visiting homes in one of Detroit’s hard-hit neighborhoods.

He has joined “I’m In,” emergency financial manager Robert Bobb’s $500,000 campaign to stop the flow of students leaving the district, and maybe persuade parents who have sent their children elsewhere to give Detroit another shot.

It features 172 blue doors meant to welcome parents and students to the district’s 172 schools. Classes begin next Tuesday.

Last month, Mr. Bobb began visiting city neighborhoods, meeting with parents who had pulled their children from the district in favor of either private and charter schools or schools outside Detroit.

“This has a chance,” Mr. Cosby said of Mr. Bobb’s effort. “And we’re going to knock on these doors because they weren’t open. And we’re going to talk to people to get them to understand the seriousness of a child left without a reason to understand math, without a reason to study and be able to understand English.”

In recent years, the district has bumbled and mismanaged its way to a $259 million deficit. Its graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation; the dropout rate among the highest.

And students are leaving — by the thousands.

Last fall, enrollment dropped below 100,000 and is expected to dip under 90,000 this fall. Mr. Bobb has budgeted for an enrollment of 83,777.

Mr. Bobb, appointed in March by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to fix the district’s finances, has laid off more than 1,000 teachers and hundreds of other employees, and closed 29 schools to cut costs.

About 40 schools are being restructured to improve academics. Class sizes also are shrinking.

“The change was very much needed because of the economy and failing neighborhoods,” said Lisa Berry, who has three children in the district. “I believe Bill Cosby visiting also will have a positive impact.”

But Mr. Cosby made it clear that it would take more than his name and Mr. Bobb’s dedication. He challenged parents to be more active in their children’s education and ensure they get to school each day.

“We’ve got to really speak to parents — in a way they can understand — that the prison system is smiling, waiting on your child,” Mr. Cosby said.

He later told several dozen Detroit students during a round-table discussion that life and school promise opportunities and time to decide on their futures.

“Not everybody in this room wants to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “Have you ever thought about being a physical therapist? … Have you ever thought about an electrician? Just a plain, old, raggedy $75-an-hour electrician? How much is eight times $75?

“You don’t know what you’re going to fall in love with until you’re exposed to it.”

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