By Victor Skinner
DETROIT – Teachers in Detroit Public Schools are casting their ballots for the next president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
But it’s more than that.
Union rabble-rouser Steve Conn is challenging the bumbling incumbent DFT President Keith Johnson, and if Conn wins he has vowed to lead the district’s educators on strike. The union election will determine the approach Detroit teachers take amid the uncertainty and chaos that has resulted from Michigan voters repealing the state’s Emergency Financial Manager law.
Voters repealed the law through a ballot initiative this election, giving some control back to the district’s inept school board. Previously, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager Roy Roberts had supreme authority under the law, so collective bargaining was a moot subject.
Things are different now.
Frankly, we’re not very fond of either DFT candidate.
Johnson has continuously resisted educational reforms designed to improve student performance, as well as virtually every effort to fix the district’s massive debt problems. During his four-year tenure as DFT president, Johnson has sued DPS over pay cuts, retirement benefits, and layoffs, the Detroit News reports.
EAGnews met Johnson for an interview at his lavish DFT office in 2010, where he smugly described how he at one time “saved” Conn’s job when the Cass Technical High School teacher allegedly incited a student riot at a local public meeting. He’s a self-involved politician who has memorized the union talking points, and likely takes direction well from the Big Labor brass.
By the time we left the interview with Johnson, he was shouting down the hallway: “You better edify!”
We’re still not sure what he was trying to say.
Conn, however, is quite clear in his socialist views for Detroit’s schools and his “by any means necessary” approach to fighting virtually any and all education reforms. We also sat down with Conn in 2010, shortly before he challenged Johnson during the last union election – in which he came within 41 votes of unseating him.
In our conversation, Conn laid out a utopian vision for Detroit’s public schools dependant on drastic increases in funding that are impossible with the district’s current financial situation. In recent years, Conn has demonstrated that he’s willing to make life uncomfortable for everyone in Detroit to get his way.
In other words, Detroit teachers will choose between two pretty bad leadership options.
But in the school district U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dubbed “ground zero” for education reform, it’s simply business as usual.