Bert Dearing, Jr. (l) speaks at rally in Hart Plaza July 15, 2015. Bert’s Marketplace was being auctioned off for over $2M July 21. The Wayne Co. Register of Deeds currently shows a “lis pendens” (lawsuit pending) on the property’s status.
Detroit, MI — Renowned Detroit Black business owner Bert Dearing, Jr. forestalled the seizure of Bert’s Market Place at auction by filing a federal lawsuit Aug. 19. It alleges that prominent white-owned businesses and individuals committed numerous counts of egregious fraud in their attempt to seize the venue.
One, Charles Aliahmed, is an ex-felon. He was convicted of Insurance-Fraudulent Acts (Conspiracy) in Wayne County Circuit Court in 2002 after pleading no contest.
Bert’s is a well-known restaurant and entertainment venue in Eastern Market that has operated since 2003. It features soul food, jazz musicians, and special events and is especially popular with the Black community.
Protester at July 15 rally.
“I’ve done business in Detroit for over 47 years,” Dearing, Jr. said during a downtown rally against the “Black-Out” of Detroit July 15. “My club was at 150 W. Jefferson beginning in 1957, but I was displaced from there and forced to move to Eastern Market. What programs is our government putting together for people of color to survive in Detroit?”
Joining him were other Black Detroit business-owners, cab drivers, homeowners, city retirees, and residents campaigning for streetlights in the city’s darkened neighborhoods.
Dearing’s lawsuit, B & D Property Mgt., Dearing Development, and Bert Dearing vs. Ciena Capital et al, (2:15-cv-12960), is being heard in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David Lawson. A telephone status conference with Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford is set for Friday, Oct. 2 at 10 a.m. between the parties. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss.
STOP THE BLACK-OUT OF DETROIT rally at Coleman A. Young Center July 15, 2015.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit has halted the foreclosure and sale of the Bert’s Eastern Market site on Russell St. The Wayne County Register of Deeds currently lists its standing as “lis pendens,” meaning the lawsuit’s outcome will determine whether a foreclosure sale can proceed.
“The scam has ultimately resulted in the perpetrators gaining over $70,000 in commissions and security deposits, rent payments ($50,500 to date), deeds to multiple properties and land and potential profits from the auction where the closing bid was $2,084,250.00,” Dearing said in a release Sept. 20. “Those involved used manipulation and undue influence to steal money . . .and to secure their bad faith contracts and bogus property deeds. The perpetrators intended to defraud [me] of the Market Place property as well as six . . .other Detroit properties through misrepresentation and concealment of intertwined personal and business relationships.”
DWSD worker Andrew Daniels-El holds city charter during rally Jan. 23, 2009 at Bert’s, sponsored by Agnes Hitchcock and Call ’em Out. The late John Riehl, Pres. of AFSCME Local 207, at Agnes’ left, and his members were fighting to stop the giveaway of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Dept. without a vote of the people, as required by the Charter. Political events such as this have no doubt played a role in the attack on Bert Dearing, Jr.
Defendants in the suit include Ciena Capital, which first serviced Dearing’s mortgage of his Eastern Market site from Business Loan Center, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ciena, in 2003. Ciena is now a subsidiary of $9.1 billion giant Ares Capital, according to disclosure statements it filed during lawsuit proceedings.
Dearing paid regular installments on the mortgage through 2013, until he became seriously ill and executed payment arrangements with Ciena. He then made six payments, only one of which was cashed by Ciena, says the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that Ciena, unbeknownst to Dearing, then executed assignments of the mortgage to several trusts it created, which in turn assigned the mortgage to banks including HSBC in Feb. 2014. HSBC then assigned its interest to the newly-created Eastern Market, LLC, run by one Charles Aliahmed of Grosse Pointe.
“Eastern Market 1, LLC, is a new company, formed on May 14, 2014, which was only two weeks prior to receiving the assignment of the mortgage from HSBC Bank, USA,” Dearing said in his release. “Typically, a well established bank would not/could not assign the mortgage note to a newly formed company that’s outside the securitization chain. To investigators it would appear that there is a connection between the parties.”
A “well-established bank” should also have checked the criminal background of Aliahmed. According to court records, he was convicted in 2002 of “Insurance-Fraudulent Acts (Conspiracy),” MCL 500.4511, a felony which carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. Somehow, by pleading no contest, he obtained a two-year adult criminal probation sentence. (See links in third paragraph of story.)
Aliahmed formerly owned Quest Financial Solutions, now defunct, the subject of a stinging expose on “Ripped-Off Online” which accused him of running Ponzi schemes and various other scurrilous activities.
Jazz band performs at Bert’s during benefit for musician facing eviction.
“He runs many scams from his office, ranging from investing in low income housing projects in Detroit, to False Credit repair and high risk refinancing scams, which cost his customers more in the long run than they imagine they save in the beginning,” says the poster. “Charles eludes his customers after taking substantial monies from them, and never following through on his claims. His investments are frauds and ponzi schemes. He has one employee left working for him.”
The document, including Aliahmed’s rebuttal and 47 negative comments from other Quest customers, is linked below story and can be read by clicking on Quest Financial Charles Aliahmed.
Aliahmed demanded immediate payment of $471,000 from Dearing, who disputed that amount since the principal left on the mortgage was far less. Aliahmed’s attorney posted a notice of foreclosure in the Detroit Legal News July 11. Dearing followed with a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court which was never resolved. The Wayne County Sheriff held an auction on the property in Aug. 2014, with a redemption date of Feb. 21, 2015, says Dearing’s suit.
A Saturday afternoon at Bert’s in Eastern Market.
Dearing was the only party to appear at that auction, but the Sheriff’s Office nonetheless assigned the property to Eastern Market 1, LLC which recorded a document saying they had received payment from the unknown “Simon Holdings Group–2727 Russell, LLC” of $496,994.18.
Emre Uralli of Luke Investments, address 712 Cass (currently a parking lot which Uralli claimed he would turn into Detroit’s tallest building), had earlier contacted Dearing to offer him a deal to pay off his debt, which Dearing declined. Without Dearing’s knowledge, Uralli created the “2727-2739 Russell Street Trust,” and registered it.
Later, in Dec. 2014, after dealing with other lenders including Victor Simon (a/k/a Faiz ‘Victor’ Simon) of Soaring Pine Real Estate Investments, the Simon Holdings Group, and Atlas Oil, Dearing accepted Uralli’s offer verbally. He then called him to decline in favor of Simon’s offer, but Uralli refused to accept his decision.
David Stott and Free Press buildings, purchased by Emre Uralli in 2013, then eventually by Dan Gilbert in 2014. Was Uralli a front for Gilbert?
Uralli, a realtor from Florida who moved to Detroit, purchased the David Stott and Detroit Free Press Buildings in 2013, then sold them to the shadowy DDI Group, based in Shanghai, China at a profit. Multi-billionaire Dan Gilbert, known for using front groups to snatch up downtown properties, purchased both buildings in 2014 at much inflated rates.
Unknown to Dearing, Uralli and Simon then joined forces in a joint venture called “Simon Group Holdings–2727 Russell,” later amended to delete the Simon name. Dearing signed a two-year lease with 2727 Russell, LLC, but finally revoked all deeds and leases he had signed under false pretenses in four notices in the Detroit Legal News, with copies sent to Uralli, Simon, and Aliahmed.
Uralli nonetheless got the Sheriff’s office to proceed with an auction of Dearing’s property July 21-2013. The final bid was over $2 million. Dearing received notice of the bid, but no notice of who the successful bidder was.
“Bert was not aware of the complexity of the foreclosure fraud and the defective sheriff’s deed until after the expiration of the presumed 6 month redemption period,” says his release. “However, by that time the perpetrators had already recorded their bogus documents in the Wayne County Register of Deeds office; they were collecting monthly rent payments and despite the fact that Bert was only four months into an alleged 2-year lease, scheduled the property for the July 21-23, 2015 auction. This shows obvious bad faith because not only did they demand a $50k security deposit; a 2-year buy-back lease with exorbitant rent payments ($10,100/mo) and deeds to multiple properties, after only four months into the alleged lease agreement they scheduled the Market Place property for auction.”
Nicole Small, sister of Darnell Small, former owner of the Tangerine Club which was run of business by the white-owned Atwater Brewery, spoke during the July 15 rally.
“We’re the majority in the city,” Small said. “How dare you say we can be anywhere except downtown Detroit and ‘midtown’? We want prime real estate for $1 just like Gilbert and the rest. Gilbert just got a $1 million grant for Capitol Park through the City Council and the Mayor.”
Dearing and his allies say the battle for Bert’s Market Place is still going, and are calling on all Detroiters for their support.
SAVE BERTS MARKET PLACE AND THEATER!
Bert’s Market Place
2727 Russell Street – Eastern Market District, Detroit, Michigan 48207
Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin flanked by military leaders/ Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces have been battling ISIS-led rebels for years, defending civilian population
(Links to stories on U.S./CIA-led creation of ISIS at conclusion)
BY NATALIYA VASILYEVA
September 30, 2015
Russian air strike in Syria.
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian military jets carried out airstrikes Wednesday against the Islamic State group in Syria for the first time — a move that came after President Vladimir Putin received parliamentary approval to send Russian troops to Syria.
The airstrikes targeted positions, vehicles and warehouses that Russia believes belong to IS militants, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies.
Putin sought to portray the airstrikes as a pre-emptive attack against the Islamic militants who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq. Russia estimates at least 2,400 of its own citizens are already fighting with extremists in Syria and Iraq.
“If they (militants) succeed in Syria, they will return to their home country, and they will come to Russia, too,” Putin said in a televised speech at a government session.
U.S. Pres. Barack Obama and Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin met privately after UN General session in New York./EPA
State Department spokesman John Kirby told The Associated Press that a Russian official in Baghdad informed U.S. Embassy personnel on Wednesday that Russian military aircraft would shortly begin flying anti-IS missions over Syria. The Russian official also asked that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during those missions Wednesday. Kirby did not say whether the U.S. agreed to that request.
The US-led counter-ISIL coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria, Kirby added.
Russian lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to allow Putin to order airstrikes in Syria, where Russia has deployed fighter jets and other weapons in recent weeks. The Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, discussed Putin’s request for the authorization behind closed doors, cutting off its live web broadcast to hold a debate notable for its quickness.
Russia’s lower house of Parliament meets during earlier event.
Putin had to request parliamentary approval for any use of Russian troops abroad, according to the constitution. The last time he did so was before Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
Putin on Wednesday insisted that Russia is not going to send troops to Syria and that its role in Syrian army operations will be limited.
“We certainly are not going to plunge head-on into this conflict,” he said. “First, we will be supporting the Syrian army purely in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups. Second, this will be air support without any participation in the ground operations.”
Putin also said he expects Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia’s long-time ally, to sit down and talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement, but added he was referring to what he described as a “healthy” opposition group.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
Russia’s first airstrike on Syria came after Putin’s meeting Monday with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, where the two discussed Russia’s military buildup in Syria.
Putin and other officials have said Russia was providing weapons and training to Assad’s army to help it combat IS. Russian navy transport vessels have been shuttling back and forth for weeks to ferry troops, weapons and supplies to an air base near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia. IHS Jane’s, a leading defense research group, said last week that satellite images of the base showed 28 jets, including Su-30 multirole fighters, Su-25 ground attack jets, Su-24 bombers and possibly Ka-52 helicopter gunships.
Putin administration says airstrikes comply with international law, unlike those conducted by U.S. and other countries
Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said in televised remarks after the parliamentary vote that Moscow was responding to a request from Assad asking for help. He said the biggest difference between Russian airstrikes and those being conducted by the United States and other countries is that “they do not comply with international law, but we do.”
Moscow has always been a top ally of Assad. The war in Syria against his regime, which began in 2011, has left at least 250,000 dead and forced millions to flee the country. It is also the driving force behind the record-breaking number of asylum-seekers fleeing to Europe this year.
Worried by the threat of Russian and U.S. jets clashing inadvertently over Syrian skies, Washington agreed to talk to Moscow on how to “deconflict” their military actions. Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had a 50-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart — the first such military-to-military discussion between the two countries in more than a year.
On Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Carter had instructed his staff to contact Russian officials about establishing talks on ways to keep each other’s air operations in Syria from colliding or otherwise getting in each other’s way. Cook said it was not yet clear when these talks would start.
Israel has taken similar precautions, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Moscow last week to agree with Putin on a coordination mechanism to avoid any possible confrontation between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria.
Russian Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matvienko said in a live news conference on Russian television that parliament’s decision on Wednesday reflected Russia’s growing role in global affairs.
“We as a great power cannot but take part in fighting this great evil,” Matvienko said, adding that the Soviet Union and Syria signed a security cooperation agreement in 1980 that guarantees that Moscow would help Damascus if asked. “We couldn’t refuse Bashar Assad and keep on seeing how people, women and children are dying.”
In Baghdad, Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, said his government was in talks with Russia “in the hope that shared intelligence will further our abilities to defeat the terrorists within our borders.”
Julie Pace in New York, Albert Aji in Damascus and Viviam Salama in Baghdad contributed to this report.
In local after local, auto workers are voting down their union’s national deal with Chrysler, aiming to force their bargainers back to the table to do better.
The four-year pact announced September 15 would include raises and bonuses but maintain the two-tier system, trap people in Tier 2 who had expected to move up, and create even more tiers.
“I feel like the people who hire in at the lower wage deserve the chance to get to where I’m at, to be able to live in a comfortable manner,” said Nancy Collins, a team leader at Kokomo Transmission in Indiana.
Women workers at Chrysler’s Kokomo, Indiana transmission plant.
When she started at Chrysler 20 years ago, she was a single mom supporting three young kids. Today her daughter and son-in-law, with three kids of their own, work at the plant too.
But “how they make it on $19 an hour I’m not real sure, and that’s with both of them working,” she said.
“They live paycheck to paycheck. … They do the same jobs we do. There’s no reason they should be paid so much less.”
In her United Auto Workers Local 685—one of the biggest, representing four plants in Indiana—78 percent of production workers and 65 percent of skilled trades workers voted no.
“Bridge to nowhere”
Most locals to vote so far have decisively rejected the deal, including Locals 7 (Jefferson North Assembly, Detroit), 1264 (Sterling Stamping, Michigan), 1102 (Kokomo Casting, Indiana), 372 (Trenton Engine, Michigan), 1435 (Toledo Machining, Ohio), 1248 (Mopar in Center Line, Michigan), and others.
Warren Truck plant vote, as posted on Ford, GM, Chrysler Workers Unite! Facebook page.
Just three locals have voted it up: 723 (Dundee Engine, Michigan), 1302 (salaried workers in Kokomo), and 1284 (Chelsea, Michigan). (VOD–Warren Truck Plant assembly workers voted it up Sept. 29, but skilled trades voted it down.)
An estimated one-third of Chrysler’s workforce still has votes ahead this week, including Sterling Heights Assembly (Michigan), Toledo Assembly Complex (Ohio), and Belvidere Assembly (Illinois), through September 30.
Workers are abuzz on Facebook, swapping contract information, local vote tallies, and photos of ballots marked “no” and protest T-shirts.
“It’s a bridge to nowhere,” said Alex Wassell, a welder repair worker at Warren Stamping near Detroit. “It looks like they’re not planning on closing that gap, just raising the lowest-tier workers up to this level and then waiting for traditional workers to quit, retire, or die.”
Non-union workers make up 81 percent of the U.S. auto workforce. Tiered contracts are worsening the union jobs that remain. “This job that built the middle class, now it’s going to build the poor working class,” said Asar Amen-Ra, a 20-year Mopar employee in Center Line, Michigan. Graphic: Sonia Singh.
The second tier, earning $15.78-$19.28 an hour, now comprises about 45 percent of the company’s workforce.
Sergio Marchionne made $72 million last year.
Meanwhile Tier 1 workers—those hired before 2007—have been frozen at $28 for years. CEO Sergio Marchionne has made no secret of his desire to phase out the top tier altogether.
“This job that built the middle class, now it’s going to build the poor working class,” said Asar Amen-Ra, a 20-year Mopar employee in Center Line, Michigan.
The lower tier wasn’t supposed to balloon forever. “When we were hired, the company was just starting to turn around,” said Denny Crum, a forklift driver in Toledo who started two years ago.
“We were told by several people within the union, ‘These tiers are going away, we’re going to fight to get rid of them. These were just brought in to keep the company afloat when the economy crashed.’”
Fiat Chrysler’s TOTAL $4.1 BILLION operating profit in 2014 fueled by North America earnings–Automotive News
Meanwhile, the automakers have certainly bounced back, even Chrysler. The company’s latest figures, for the second quarter of this year, showed $1.4 billion in profit in North America, a robust profit margin of 7.7 percent. In the same quarter Ford pocketed 11.1 percent and GM 10 percent.
“That’s why we’re all wondering,” Collins said. “They say they don’t have any more money to offer us. I don’t see how that can be.”
Many members are especially angry that the union and Chrysler abandoned a longstanding promise to move a segment of Tier 2 workers up into Tier 1. The 2009 settlement agreement and 2011 contract summary reiterated that the lower tier would be capped at no more than 25 percent of the workforce as soon as the contract expired in September 2015. Continue reading →
While a college degree is widely understood to be an essential tool to compete in today’s tough job market and rise up the economic ladder, diminishing state and federal support of public higher education has sent tuition skyrocketing. As a result, most students now must borrow to attend college—turning what was once a path toward upward mobility into a game of risk.
This risk is not shared equally. The “new normal” of borrowing is particularly acute for Black students—who are more likely to borrow and to borrow at higher amounts than white students due to greater financial need.
The financial risk is considerable: 4-in-10 Black borrowers drop out of college, leaving them with debt but without the benefit of a degree. Around 7-in-10 Black dropouts cite student debt as a primary reason for not completing school, compared to fewer than half of white students.
A few hours before Pope Francis arrives in the District of Columbia for the first leg of his U.S. visit, Capitol food service and other government contract workers will walk off their jobs. The workers will strike Tuesday to renew their call for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to unionize. They plan to proceed to the Capitol and convene across from the East Front with religious leaders and presidential hopeful Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., to pray for lawmakers to heed the pope’s message about economic inequality.
Catholic Pope Francis
On Sept. 10, more than 40 Capitol workers requested an audience with Pope Francis to discuss their struggle to make ends meet while serving wealthy lawmakers. Around 40 workers from the Senate and Capitol Visitor Center also went on strike in July, the third in less than a year. These workers represent about a third of the workers in the Senate and CVC. Labor organizers say there are roughly 90 Senate workers and 30 in the CVC. On the House side, there are around 125 cafeteria workers and 40 workers with the banquet agency, Capitol Host.
Many of these workers are returning to full-time work after the six-week August recess, a period indicative of the challenges facing the food service workers at the Capitol, who struggle with low wages and uneven work schedules.
Abraham Tesfahun, 21, works in food service at the Senate and makes $10.70 an hour. Many of the Capitol’s food servers, who make the meals, bus the tables and run the cash registers in the restaurants and carryouts that serve lawmakers, earn less than $11 an hour. Some make nothing at all when Congress is in recess. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
James Powell, 27, who works as a chef in the Senate Dining Room said in a recent interview that during August, he used up all of his 80 vacation hours so he could get some money while his work hours were cut. “That still doesn’t cover [me] in the last week,” Powell said. “By me taking all of my vacation and all of my sick days that actually leaves me no days off for the year” Powell, who has a 3-year-old son, said he has worked in the Senate cafeterias for around five years and makes just more than $13 an hour. He is one of the workers pushing for a $15-an-hour wage. “It would make a huge difference,” Powell said of the wage increase. “I wouldn’t have to live from Friday to Friday, check to check. I would have more leeway. There wouldn’t be a struggle.”
Powell was working in the Senate in 2012 when workers opted not to unionize. He said he voted against a union, and he regrets it to this day. Powell said the food contractor, Restaurant Associates, informed workers that a union would only take workers’ money, not actually help them, and he believed it. “Why didn’t I just vote yes? Why was I brainwashed?” Powell asked. “I think about it every day I go to work.”
Unite HERE Local 23 workers newspaper.
The cafeteria workers on the other side of the Capitol are represented by a Unite Here Local 23, and attempted to bring Senate workers into the fold at the beginning of 2014, but were stopped when the Service Employees International Union asserted legal jurisdiction over the Senate workers.
A spokesperson for the SEIU local chapter told CQ Roll Call on Sept. 11 there was no current effort to organize Senate workers. For the House workers, watching their Senate and CVC counterparts go on strike and detail their struggle in op-eds to no avail is frustrating.
“To me it’s kind of sad,” Jamia Vaden, a 31-year-old cook in the Longworth House Office Building, said in a recent interview. “Because people have family, you have kids, it’s like, you have bills. And to know that somebody is working on Capitol Hill and is homeless, with congressmen and senators, I just, it’s just mind boggling.”
“I feel they need to be represented by a union. To me, it doesn’t matter which union it is. I wish it was our union,” said House cook Rickie Toon. Toon, 60, works in the Rayburn House Office Building and has been working in House cafeterias for more than three decades. He helped organize the House union effort shortly after the House privatized food services in 1986.
Rayburn House cafeteria.
Both Toon and Vaden make $17.25 an hour. The wage is is nearly three times Toon’s starting wage. He attributed the increase to unionization, and said working with the union also earned him respect among management. Toon and Vaden work as union stewards, serving as union representatives during grievance meetings. They described standing up for their fellow workers, and resolving issues in meetings that include managers involved and their supervisors.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, workers with recent grievances have turned to Good Jobs Nation, a coalition of labor groups that has been organizing the recent contract worker strikes. The group has filed a number of unfair labor practice complaints against Restaurant Associates, alleging retaliation against workers who have spoken out or gone on strike.
Powell, who works in the Senate, said having a union would allow him and his Senate workers to have an ally when voicing complaints against management. “[A union] would make a huge difference because I feel I would actually have a voice in what goes on,” Powell said. “They couldn’t just push us around anymore because we have somebody that’s going to stand up against them.”
Water main break under Detroit Water Board Building had streets, parking lot for customers flooded for weeks this month. Main breaks, sinkholes have plagued DWSD as workforce downsized by 41 percent; GLWA plans to cut even further.
DAREA retirees, other groups continue state-mandated campaign to put GLWA contract on Detroit ballot: #OurWaterOurVote
GLWA will increase debt, water shut-offs, rates, workforce decimation (41 percent of DWSD workers gone now), pollution of Detroit River, Lake Erie
Coalition says stop the takeover, fight DWSD for the people’s rights
By Diane Bukowski
September 16, 2015
The late renowned activist Mary Shumake and others march outside Detroit Water Board Building.
DETROIT – Several major stumbling blocks remain before the contract handing over the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the regional Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), signed June 12, can take legal effect Jan. 1, 2016, according to GLWA officials.
The Coalition to Save the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department thus has time to finish collecting the 15,000 signatures necessary to place the issue on the Detroit ballot, under Public Act 233 of 1955. The petitions began circulating June 21.
“We fight because we are right,” said Bill Davis, President of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA), which is spearheading the drive. “Each of us should be a warrior in this fight. If each retiree and active city worker turned in just ONE petition with 15 signatures of registered Detroit voters, we would have 480,000 signatures.”
DAREA activists after Detroit General Retirement System meeting June 10, where they publicized DAREA appeal of bankruptcy and recruited members.
There are 32,000 active and retired City of Detroit workers in its two pension systems.The Coalition said in its recent newsletter that it opposes the GLWA because of expected rate increases to service debt, lack of an income-based water affordability plan, job elimination, union-busting, down-sizing, and ongoing privatization.
The Detroit bankruptcy Plan of Adjustment (POA) set six major requirements for the GLWA takeover:
Approval of takeover by 51 percent of DWSD bondholders
“The goal of 51 percent bondholder approval has not been met at this juncture; we are still assembling that,” GLWA Chair Robert Daddow, of Oakland County, told VOD after a joint meeting of the GLWA and the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners Sept. 14. He said he could not discuss details further because U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox has placed a gag order on the proceedings.
GLWA board chair Robert Daddow, of Oakland County, is interviewed June 12, 2015 after GLWA contract signed.
Wall St. pledge that GLWA bond ratings will not drop below DWSD ratings
No major Wall Street ratings agency has yet pledged that GLWA bond ratings will not be lower than those of the DWSD. GLWA Interim CEO Sue McCormick said in her Sept. 14 report that “no formal rating review for GLWA has been requested,” but touted recent bond upgrades given to DWSD by Moody’s and Fitch Ratings.
New master bond ordinance
Daddow told VOD Sept 14. that a GLWA master bond ordinance is not complete.
Agreement on pension obligations with Detroit General Retirement System
Michael Van Overbeke, attorney for the Detroit General Retirement System (DGRS), said negotiations with the GLWA on handling of pension obligations for DWSD employees are not complete, but are “proceeding,” also under a gag order from Judge Cox. He said he expects them to be wrapped up soon. If DGRS’ approval of the Bankruptcy Plan and its earlier withdrawal of its Sixth Circuit Court appeal of bankruptcy eligibility for Detroit are any indication, the outlook for retirees is not positive.
Consent from customer communities
GLWA Interim CEO Sue McCormick at June 12, 2015 meeting. Detroit GLWA Director Isaiah McKinnon is at right.
“The favorable response from our customer communities continues in the assignment of their service contracts resulting in 99.83% of sewer contracts, by revenue assigned, with the remaining unassigned contract scheduled for consideration,” McCormick said in her report.”Water contracts are at 82% by revenue assigned, with 17 contracts remaining to be assigned.”
The DWSD water division has contracts with 127 communities; its sewer division has contracts with 76 communities. Under terms of the GLWA contract with the City of Detroit, Detroit would become another contracted community, relinquishing its ownership of the six-county system through personal property and revenue SALES, not leases, with real property sales of the system’s infrastructure open to board approval.
Legal opinions on tax-exempt status of new GLWA bonds
No such opinions are included in the minutes of the GLWA since it began meeting in December, 2014.
McCormick and GLWA co-chair Gary Brown gave extensive slide presentations at the meeting on complex structural measures underway to move DWSD into the GLWA by Jan. 1. They said if all measures are not complete by Jan. 1, a temporary partnership between the two entities lasting from six months to two years would be put in place.
Detroit “mayor” Mike Duggan says Detroit will give up all of DWSD except some pipeline infrastructure within the city limits, during GLWA Consent Agreement announcement Sept. 9, 2014.
Apparently the complexity of handing over the nation’s third largest public water and sewerage facility to the Great Lakes Water Authority was underestimated during the bankruptcy.
The original date set in the Plan of Adjustment was Jan. 1, 2015. An extension was granted to June 12, 2015, when the current GLWA contract with the City of Detroit was signed. A further extension to Jan. 1, 2016 for the six other requirements was included in the contract.
Brown’s presentation included pledges to more quickly deal with water main breaks, sinkholes, and other problems plaguing the DWSD infrastructure, as well as a promise to decrease water shut-offs through ongoing revamping of assistance plans.
Little discussion was held by board members on the contracts. During the Aug. 15 meeting of the GLWA, a contract with global PR firm Fleishman & Hilliard was approved despite the fact that the board did not have a copy. Board committees are still being set up, and none had vetted the contract.
Moody’s, Fitch bond upgrades based on DWSD water shut-offs, lay-offs, privatization, downsizing; 41 percent of DWSD workers already gone
Gary Brown as VP of Detroit City Council, with former Pres. Charles Pugh, who has just been sued for sexual harassment of a minor. Brown went from Council to aide to EM Kevyn Orr to COO under Duggan, and vice-chair of the GLWA.
A DWSD release said Moody’s cited “increased efficiency, improved billing collections and providing better services” in its report on recent two-level DWSD bond upgrades from Baa3 to Ba2, and from Ba3 to Ba1, with “positive” outlooks. Until recent years, the DWSD had bond ratings in the A ranges due to its separation from the City of Detroit as an enterprise agency, with bond repayment predicated on revenues.
Brown said at the meeting that customer service will be the top goal for the GLWA, because Mayor Mike Duggan has pledged to make the return of residents to Detroit the hallmark of his administration. The Detroit News today trumpeted that the city’s white population increased by 8,000 from 2013 to 2014. Its total population in 2014 was 680,250, however, compared to 713,777 in 2010.
But the GLWA contract says clearly and repeatedly that the agency’s first priority is revenue collection for debt pay-off. Under the contract, DWSD debts have increased to $5.7 billion due to re-financings under the bankruptcy, and are likely to increase more under the GLWA if it continues to hand out contracts to board cronies sight unseen. Wall Street also barred a proposed $2.3 billion impairment of DWSD debt during bankruptcy proceedings.
Larry Young of Highland Park tries to clean out sewer on his street in Aug. 2014 after storms resulted in massive floods actually caused by inoperable sewage pumps at Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant.
DWSD meanwhile is allegedly increasing revenues with new measures. A “stormwater run-off” fee of $19.66 a month has been charged to Detroit residents only, since July 1, 2015. The fee has been ruled illegal under the Headlee Amendment, as a tax not approved by voters in two Lansing-related cases, in 2011 by a State Appeals Court, and in 1998 by the Michigan Supreme Court, Bolt v. Lansing.
However, the City of Detroit claims on its website that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its legality in 1986 in City of Detroit v. State of Michigan and County of Wayne.
Mike Shane of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, which is also a member of the Coalition to Save the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, is disputing this fee.
“The charge has nothing to do with water consumption or the treatment of the sewage created by that water usage,” Shane says. DWSD says on its website that customers are being charged for the cost of transporting and treating stormwater flowing into sewers to the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Downspout on left is connected to sewer; downspout on right has been disconnected to allow stormwater to flow in home’s lawn.
“Many homeowners have disconnected their downspouts from the sewer system, allowing rainwater from the roof to drain into the yard, removing a huge storm water load from the DWSD system,” Shane counters.
Another measure ironically aimed at increasing revenue is water shut-offs, despite Brown’s claim at the meeting that the city is working to reduce shut-offs under the guidance of Duggan and a shadowy “Blue Ribbon Panel.” The GLWA and the BOWC have both said earlier that drops in DWSD revenue have been due in large part to reduced water usage.
In her written report, McCormick told the board that 13,409 residential accounts have been permanently shut-off for “illegal” usage, from January 1 through Sept. 5, 2015. See GLWA CEOReportSept15.
She added, “Since May 11, 2015, the Department has posted 42,414 door hangers notifying customers of pending shut off of services. A total of 12,352 of those customers have either paid their bills, or entered into a payment plan agreement. Currently, there are a total of 38,867 active payment plan agreements with the total combined balance of $31,308,592.96. There are 2,267 customers receiving assistance from the Detroit Water Fund (DWF) for a total liability of $831,680.93 through September 4, 2015, and a remaining balance of $1,136,021.07 available for assistance.”
Nearly half of the city’s 300,861 residential accounts are past due. The average amount is $732.
Water rates in Detroit have increased over 120 percent in the last decade, particularly since the DWSD started billing on a monthly, not a quarterly, basis. DWSD has also been installing remote “SMART meters” in customers’ homes, forcing them to pay for the cost of adapting their plumbing to meet the meter requirements.
Demeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade said that his group has received numerous complaints from customers whose water was shut-off after they refused to have the meters installed, or could not afford the cost of plumbing adaptations. He also questioned whether computer-generated charges can be manipulated to increase GLWA revenues. Channel 7 News reported recently on the case of Paulina Richardson at http://www.wxyz.com/news/mom-small-children-without-water-for-weeks-because-of-switch-to-smart-meter.
The Authority has already declared that, come hell or high water, its “Water Resident Assistance Program” (WRAP), whose final version was presented at its Aug. 17 meeting, is not and never will be the income-based water affordability, no-shut-offs plan that thousands have demanded over the last two years.
In a televised interview Aug. 20, 2015, McCormick said DWSD has slashed the number of its workers “from 2178 in early 2012 to 1322 on July 1, 2015,” approximately 41 percent, half-way to contractor EMA’s recommendation of 81 percent. During the Sept. 14 board meeting, she noted that numerous DWSD jobs are slated for outsourcing to private companies, including maintenance and security positions, with skilled trades jobs next on the list.
GLWA’s “WRAP” Plan is NOT an plan that assigns income-based water rates, and it does NOT bar water shut-offs.
See entire slide presentation at WRAP-Presentation-PowerPoint-081715. Note that its “advisory panel” includes neither Water Affordability Plan expert Roger Colton nor Demeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade despite rumors to the contrary.
GLWA’s revised “Master Plan” includes massive downsizing
At its July 9 Joint GLWA/BOWC meeting, officials reported frightening future plans to downsize the entire facility by:
Dropping spending for water main replacement to $25 million a year, enough to repair only one one percent of the lines , despite ongoing massive breaks and sinkholes in Detroit and the region;
Shutting down treatment plants and booster stations;
Reducing capital improvement spending from $9 billion to $2.9 billion;
Rescission of planned upgrades for 14 sites;
Reducing GLWA’s daily pumping capacity from 1,760 million to 1,040 million gallons;
Reduction of water intake sites from five to three.
Video below covers one of dozens of sinkhole problems reported in the DWSD area for the past several years.
GLWA PLANS “GREEN AND BLUE INFRASTRUCTURE,” BUT INCREASES POLLUTION WITH $630 MILLION BIO-SOLIDS PLANT
McCormick also discussed plans for “green and blue” infrastructure in the GLWA at the Sept. 15 meeting.
City of Detroit “mayor” Mike Duggan, with state and federal agencies, announced Aug. 9 that he had just snagged $8.9 million in federal “disaster recovery” funds to establish “flood prevention areas” in broad sections of Detroit’s predominantly Black neighborhoods.
The money, part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, would fund demolition of homes, “vacant lot greening,” and large “stormwater infrastructure projects” in designated areas including Brightmoor, Mt. Elliott, and McDougall-Hunt on the city’s lower northwest and lower east sides.
“We are deeply appreciative . . .” Duggan said in a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development release. “With this funding, we are going to be able to make an impact in our neighborhoods through additional blight removal, beautification of vacant land and new strategies to make us more resilient to the kind of flood damage we experienced a year ago.”
Detroit freeways flooded during crisis of Aug. 2014.
Those floods “resulted in over 10 billion gallons of combined sewer overflow, with 6 billion gallons of the flow coming from Detroit’s system, which serves more than 70 communities in southeast Michigan, according to a release from HUD. “Of that overflow, nearly 80% was not treated, which threatened the overall health of the Great Lakes water system and Metro Detroit’s water supply.”
Nearly 60,000 households in Detroit alone were affected by the flood, with overall damage levels estimated at $10 billion.
The plan takes advantage of large parcels of vacant land cleared by the flood of predatory lending and illegal foreclosures in Detroit over the past decade.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
The grant is too little and too late said Bill Davis, who retired from the city after 34 years, a large number spent as shift supervisor at the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
DAREA Pres. Bill Davis presents award to activist Monica Lewis Patrick of We the People of Detroit at DAREA prayer breakfast June 27, where petition campaign to save DWSD was kicked off. We the People is an endorser.
Davis lives in the Brightmoor area, where the construction of underground tanks in Oakland Avenue’s median strips, topped with trees and lawns, to soak up excess stormwater, is proposed.
“The only way this would work is if a whole lot of these structures were built all over the city,” Davis said. “More foreclosures resulting in a lot of vacant land would be needed to have sufficient retention basins, if they are not planning to make improvements at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.”
He said last year that the failure of three major sewage pumps at the WWTP pumping stations caused the discharge of the 4.8 billion gallons of untreated sewage flow, referenced in the HUD release, into Metro Detroit, the Detroit River and Lake Erie, also causing an Aug. 2014 crisis in Toledo, Ohio and Southeastern Michigan which made water unpotable.
Davis said the HUD project is far too small to make up for the cutbacks at the WWTP, which included elimination of 24/7 maintenance and hundreds of jobs by EMA, a contractor which recommended that 81 percent of the DWSD workforce be cut and is now running the WWTP.
Bio-solids plant at DWSD will cause further phosphorus pollution of Detroit River, Lake Erie
DWSD Senior Chemist Saulius Simoliunas, a recognized expert internationally, and four others also weighed in on GLWA plans in a document included in the board’s Aug. 15 packet.
It blasted the GLWA as an entity made up of “two policemen from Detroit” (co-chair Gary Brown and member Isaiah McKinnon), an “airport manager from Wayne County” (Joseph Nardone), “two CPA’s from Oakland and Macomb Counties (Chair Robert Daddow and member Brian Baker), and “a retired lawyer from the Governor’s office” (Earl Hood of Dykema Gossett).
“The discussion at GLWA meetings concerns finances, but not the technical operation of the facility,” Simolianus et. al pointed out.
The ongoing construction of a $630 million biosolids sewage drying plant run by the notorious New England Fertilizer Company (NEFCO) was on the agenda at GLWA’s Aug. 15 meeting, but no discussion took place regarding technical aspects of NEFCO’s operation, its reputation, or likely negative effects of its operation.
Detroit’s former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr handed out the NEFCO contract in 2013. The plant will convert sewage sludge from the Wastewater Treatment Plant into dried pellets, or “cakes,” that can be used for land application in agriculture, as well as energy generation for utilities like DTE.
NEFCO’s plan for $630 million bio-solids plant linked to DWSD Wastewater Treatment Plan.
NEFCO facilities have incurred the wrath of communities across the U.S. where they are placed, and where cakes of dried sludge, or “bio-solids,” are applied on farms, causing noxious odors and health threats.
An Aug. 2013 report called “Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority” (LEEP), referenced by Simiolianus in his document, says phosphorus from agriculture and industrial wastewater treatment plant threatens increasing contamination, or “eutrofication” of the Lake.
Lake Erie’s algae bloom has grown to alarming proportions since last year. Note origin at bottom left from Detroit.
The report was issued before the August 2014 crisis during which 400,000 residents of Toledo and southeastern Michigan could not drink or use water processed from Lake Erie, even after boiling it, for several weeks.
The report says farmland run-off is now the primary cause of Lake Erie pollution, whereas wastewater treatment plants were previously the main source. But Davis points out that Detroit’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, by teaming up with the NEFCO facility, will indirectly cause both types of pollution.
The Erb Family Foundation has awarded the University of Michigan a $3 million grant to study the Detroit River watershed and its role in increasing algae growth in the Lake. In the 1970’s, Lake Erie was essentially considered a “dead” lake, largely due to sewage sludge outflow from Detroit’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was cleaned up after the U.S. passed the Clean Water Act, but in the last decade, problems have again increased.
DAREA pursues drive to stop GLWA while appealing bankruptcy
DAREA newsletter, front page
DAREA also is appealing the entire bankruptcy in U.S. District Court before Judge Bernard Friedman, and plans to take its appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, Davis said. It recently mailed its first print newsletter to retirees, many of whom do not have computers to access sites like Facebook pages for DAREA and The Coalition to Save the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department.
Stopping the takeover of DWSD, Detroit’s largest asset, can be done quickly through a people’s vote while court appeals of the bankruptcy itself proceed, DAREA says. A successful referendum against the takeover would also send a message to DWSD Wall Street bondholders to back off, Davis noted.
DAREA is pursuing this campaign despite some lack of interest from groups busy campaigning against water shut-offs with the Detroit City Council and DWSD. They do not seem to understand that their efforts will be null and void Jan. 1, when and if the GLWA will be in charge of determining water rates and making water shut-offs, according to its contract.
The Coalition needs to collect a total of 15,000 valid petition signatures meaning it must collect at least twice that to allow for invalid signatures. Signers must be Detroit residents who are registered voters. CIRCULATORS DO NOT HAVE TO BE DETROIT RESIDENTS.
With a $1.3 trillion buying power, Black people are the leading consumers compared to every other race. In a country built on capitalism, where “MONEY IS POWER,” one would think that Blacks in America would control everything with that amount of money, but we DON’T! In fact, Blacks are last in EVERY racial disparity, except consuming.
In this NEW ERA, this generation is open to the most resources ever available in HISTORY. There is also a never before seen amount of Black millionaires. Meaning, the Blacks living today are the most informed, most equipped, most experienced, and most qualified to rid those disparities and better our people’s lives.
NEW ERA DETROIT (NED) plans on using those RESOURCES, that MONEY, and that POWER to take back our communities and start up a SOLELY BLACK-OWNED COMMUNITY. We’re aiming to create black owned and operated schools, banks, grocery stores, hospitals, law offices, recreation centers, and more!
A community is not one without U-N-I-T-Y. NED is committed to uniting our race with tactics never before used. We are dedicated to eliminating the separation between the Black older and younger generations, Black-owned businesses and Black consumers, and Blacks of different religious groups.
Once we, AS A PEOPLE, accomplish becoming a COMMUNITY, Blacks in America will have the POWER our ancestors had in Ancient Africa.
UPDATE: DEADLINE FOR OBJECTING EXTENDED TO OCT. 12
U.S. Ecology wants to expand east-side facility
Company has decades-long record of environmental contamination
Detroit becoming hazardous waste dumping site for Michigan, U.S.
Predominantly Black, poor communities targeted
State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson asks residents to contact MDEQ
US Ecology hazardous waste site at 6520 Georgia in Detroit wants to expand capacity from 64,000 to 666,000 gallons of waste including highly toxic chemicals, and low-level radioactive products of fracking. MDEQ has announced intent to approve permit. Comments from the public must be submitted by today. See email address at end of story.
.By Ron Seigel
Sept. 12, 2015
Jeffrey Feeler, Pres/CEO US Ecology. Company had $447M in revenues in 2014, operates in numerous U.S. states including three sites in Detroit. It is headquartered in Boise, Idaho.
DETROIT — An individual would probably face life in prison if he poisoned a relative to get an inheritance.
What about company executives who spread poison in people’s neighborhoods or the water they drink in order to make a profit?
Should heads of regulatory agencies who allow this to happen be viewed as accessories or accomplices?
State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit), charges this may soon happen in Detroit. A company with a long record of environmental violations is seeking to expand its hazardous waste facility at 6520 Georgia St., on the east side of Detroit near I-94 and Mount Elliott. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is considering the company’s application for a permit.
Protest at US Ecology’s Belleville, MI plant against plan to dump national fracking waste, held Aug. 21, 2014.
Robinson warns if the firm does get MDEQ permission to expand the facility, the building will hold 500,000 tons of hazardous waste from across the state and around the country, some of it radioactive and, some contaminated with PCB’s. What, she asked, if some of this leaks out?
Robinson declared that MDEQ never did a study on possible health effects. Steven Boyle, a Detroiter involved in environmental issues, said that MDEQ documents for this facility contain no plan to deal with disasters.
MDEQ officials were not available for comment and did not return our many phone calls.
Robinson says in her newsletter that nearby schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, and public buildings would be most affected if there was a leak.
Hamtramck Senior Plaza on Holbrook, short distance away from US Ecology on Georgia.
“How close is it to your school, place of worship, worksite or neighborhood?” she asks.
She says it is four miles from the Detroit Medical Center, eight-tenths of a mile from the Lodge Playground, three and one tenth of a mile from the Considine Little Rock Family Center on Woodward, one and six tenths of a mile from the Hamtramck Senior Plaza, and one and four tenth of a mile from the Hamtramck City Hall.
Robinson adds the facility is only half a mile from Detroit Water & Sewerage Department facilities, and warns a leak could poison the whole metropolitan Detroit water supply.
VOD has discovered that the firm has had a long record of violating environmental safety regulations.
US Ecology opens its facility in Nye County, Nevada. The County is also known for the years in which the U.S. conducted nuclear testing there.
In 2010 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made U.S. Ecology pay $497,982, nearly a half-million dollars, for “numerous violations” in Nye County, Nevada. According to a November 2010 EPA newsletter, its unit was “smoking in the air.” PCB’s were “improperly labeled, stored and handled,” and inspectors “detected PCB’s at elevated levels both inside and outside the building and other PCB discharges, which were not reported as required by law.”
The October, 2012 issue of the EPA newsletter stated U.S. Ecology paid nearly $800,000 ($788,120) for violating federal hazardous waste laws in Roberson,Texas.
In April, 1996 Deborah Hastings of the Associated Press wrote that 10 years earlier plutonium and other radioactve material leaked at U.S. Ecology’s nuclear waste facility in Mazey Flat, Kansas and said the EPA superfund listed it as one of “the most polluted sites.”
Hastings also said in 1976 the firm’s employees in Nevada:
Told state inspectors they illegally poured liquid radioactive wasted directly into the ground for eight years.
Took contaminated cement and poured concrete slabs into the foundation of a house. She added some slabs set off the inspector’s geiger counter.
With help from the company’s president, some opened radioactive containers before the contents, dishes and hand tools, could be sold in the town. They were then buried.
Former Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan
Mike O’ Callaghan, who was then Nevada’s Governor, said in a published quote, “It was out of control. The whole town was hot.” U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer ID-Cal.) added, “Every site they’ve run has leaked. They left a mess wherever they’ve gone. Their record, I think would give anyone pause.”
U.S. Ecology representatives were not available for comment and did not return our call.
If there are violations, can the public can trust environmental regulators in this state to protect people’s safety?
Several months ago VOD revealed that MDEQ funds were used to demolish houses in Detroit’s Brush Park area in ways that allowed the spread of hazardous asbestos by the wind.
One problem that is being widely ignored is the fact that hazardous and radioactive waste from all over the state and the country will be transported. What if a truck which such material gets into a crash? What will happen to people in the surrounding area?
One question in the forefront of people’s minds is why is such material is slated to come to Detroit. Olivia Brown, a precinct delegate in the area of the facility, asked, “Why do we have to be a dumping ground?”
Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer opposed national laws banning environmental racism.
Some believe the answer is “environmental racism,” a tendency to put such dangerous substances where Black people or low income people live.
When the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s proposed federal civil rights laws banning such practices, opponents, including then Mayor Dennis Archer, argued local officials could be trusted to protect their communities.
Brown wrote letters to local officials, including Mayor Mike Duggan, members of the Detroit City Council, and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, asking them to speak out on this issue.
“What are you doing at the city level to protect the health and safety of the residents?” she asked them. “Silence can be an abuse of power. Please stand up and take action to protect your residents.”
Neither Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan nor City Council President Brenda Jones responded to calls for comment.
While Black people and the poor may be hardest hit by any possible environmental harm, even affluent white people will not be immune.
As Detroit city officials push some Black residents out of the east side, current officials are boasting about bringing white people in.
The environmental damage may therefore spread to the suburbs. If the hazardous waste poisons the our city and its waters, it will damage our entire state, now labeled “the water wonderland.”
Protesters during Mar. 31 march at Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz office on Monroe in downtown Detroit. They blocked the street for an hour.
Tragic divide between seniors, youth in Detroit highlighted in trial
30,000 homes on the chopping block in 2015 auctions; 85 percent in Detroit, 30 percent occupied
New state laws bar foreclosed homeowners from bidding on their own homes; they must pay all back taxes, interest and fees
Activists demand that auctions be stopped, say taxes illegal because required property value re-assessments not done for years
By Diane Bukowski
Sept. 4, 2015
Alonzo Long, Jr./Family photo
DETROIT – On Oct. 7, 2015, one day before this year’s Wayne County Treasurer tax foreclosure auctions begin, Alonzo Long, Jr., 22, will face re-trial on first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Howard Franklin, the winning bidder on Long’s grandfather’s home in Rosedale Park in 2014, and his daughter Catherine Franklin.
The ferocity of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s pursuit of the case against Long, whose first trial ended in a hung jury, parallels the assault mounted on county residents by County Executive Warren Evans and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder has declared a “financial emergency” in the county, under Public Act 436, at Evans’ request, with cuts to workers’ wages and benefits on the table, along with the County’s repayment of delinquent property taxes to its cities.
Long charges derive from Nov. 2014 incident with bidders
Charges against Long derive from an alleged shoot-out with the Franklins on Nov. 28, 2014. After winning the October bid on the home at 15114 Piedmont, rented by Long’s uncle Gregory Fletcher, the Franklins did not follow legal eviction procedures by going to 36th District Court to remove Fletcher. Instead, they armed themselves and entered the premises that evening to order Fletcher and several young relatives helping him move to get out immediately.
Long’s new defense attorney Lillian F. Diallo.
Witnesses claim Catherine Franklin shot first, wounding Tamika Long. All armed parties had concealed pistol permits. Detroit police chief James Craig earlier recommended that all Detroiters should obtain the.
After five days of deliberations during the trial in July, 2014, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Alexis Glendenning declared a hung jury.
“This is a tragic situation,” Long’s new court-appointed attorney Lillian Diallo told VOD Aug. 14 after a brief pre-trial hearing. “There are people dead here. But we also have to look at it from the standpoint of the man who sits at the [defense] table. We cannot sustain a situation as a people and a society, where youths are automatically considered guilty in situations involving older people.”
Long’s mother Susan Long said the jury was multi-racial but largely older. She said three jurors were adamant in voting “No,” and that one hugged her and told her, “I couldn’t see sending another young Black man to prison for the rest of his life. I’ll pray for you and your family.”
Home at 15114 Piedmont, as shown on Treasurer’s website.
Mrs. Long added, “Alonzo is the kind of person who, when people get into it at a party, he stays so cool and calm. He tells them, ‘hey man, just calm down.’ He was always the peacemaker in family disputes.”
The property at 15114 Piedmont, still listed under Franklin’s name despite his death, is not up for auction this year, but 30,000 other properties, 85 percent in Detroit and 30 percent occupied, will be.
30,000 foreclosed homes on auction block this year; homeowners cannot bid
Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz says on the county’s website that new state laws bar foreclosed homeowners from participating in the auctions to re-claim their own homes. Instead, they must pay the full amount of back taxes owing, plus interest and penalties. He has also said he will no longer limit the homes on the auction block to those owing large amounts.
Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz
Eric Sabree of the Treasurer’s office told VOD, “While it is not the responsibility of the Treasurer’s Office to give advice to auction purchasers, it does make all the sense in the world to relay the options that they have once they purchase occupied property. We will prepare something that the future purchasers can use as a guide. A new law (House Bill 5069, 5070 and 5071) allowing owners to request law enforcement assistance will also be referenced.”
The laws Sabree refers to were passed last year and relate to so-called “squatters,” people occupying vacant homes without the owner’s permission. Those laws caused much confusion in 2014, with many bidders assuming every occupant was a “squatter.” Sabree did not respond when asked if bidders would be told whether occupants are there legally, as in the case of Fletcher, or are “squatting.”
Exec. Warren Evans
Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder
The auction is happening as Snyder, Evans, and the County Commission work out terms of a “Consent Agreement” confirmed in August pursuant to Public Act 436. That agreement confirms among other provisions that the County can transfer funds from its “Delinquent Tax Revolving Account,” consisting of bank loans backed by delinquent tax late fees and penalties, to its general fund.
Normally, the County, which takes over the process of collecting back taxes from its cities after one year of delinquency, later repays the cities from that fund. Instead, it will be paying off its debt to the banks as cities become further cash-strapped. The state, which has cut $7.2 billion in revenue-sharing to the cities in the last 10 years, is not promising any financial assistance to the county in the Consent Agreement.
Activists want 2015 tax auctions stopped, support for Alonzo Long, Jr
Cornell Squires speaks at protest outside Wojtowicz office March 31, 2015.
Activists are demanding a halt to this year’s tax auctions, period.
They claim the auctions are illegal because cities have not followed state law requiring annual re-assessments of property value, and because of numerous irregularities in deed preparation in the Wayne County Sheriff’s office. Others decry the continued devastation both mortgage and tax foreclosures have wrought on Detroit neighborhoods, in particular.
“This is nothing but outright criminal fraud and racketeering, because the tax bills people are being forced to pay are illegal,” Cornell Squires of We the People for the People said. “State law requires annual assessments, or at the very least, reassessments every five years. It is a CRIME to force people to pay these huge amounts. Instead, they should be reimbursed for overpayments for the last 20 years, and the politicians in charge should go to jail, not Alonzo Long, Jr.”
Youth addresses Peoples Assembly Aug. 29, 2015 in Grand Circus Park.
Meanwhile, members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to End Foreclosures, Evictions, and Utility Shut-offs said at a “Peoples’ Assembly” Aug. 29 that they are planning a mass protest at the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office at 400 Monroe, in downtown Detroit, to stop the tax auctions.
The auctions are only held online, limiting access to those who have computers, but perhaps providing access to innovative protesters.
They are also calling for friends and supporters of Alonzo Long, Jr. to attend his trial to address what they say is a blatant miscarriage of justice. It will be held in the courtroom of Judge Alexis Glendenning in the Frank Murphy Hall at Gratiot and St. Antoine, but she is not expected to preside due to her pending transfer to family court.
Further details on Nov. 2014 shoot-out between bidders, Long, Jr.
On Nov. 28, 2014, the Franklins entered the Piedmont home twice. The Treasurer’s “bidding rules” tell winning bidders to obtain the occupant’s permission to enter. Earlier in the day, according to testimony at Long’s preliminary exam, the Franklins called the Detroit police to assist them. Officers who responded instructed them to leave and give the occupants time to get their belongings out, but the Franklins returned that evening.
On Oct. 8, 2014, they had also visited the home before any deed was issued in Howard Franklin’s name to tell Fletcher to move, according to Alonzo Long’s mother Susan Long. The deed was issued Nov. 11, 2014. (See deed at Howard Franklin QCD.)
On Nov. 28, all the utilities in the house had already been turned off, so subsequent events happened in the dark, witnesses said.
Alonzo’s friend Taniqua Russell was one of those helping out that day.
“They [the Franklins] told us they didn’t want to wait all night,” Russell said. “I was helping Tamika pack things from the drawers and closets, and the men were moving the stuff into the U-Haul. Gregory and Aleta (his girlfriend) were helping Junior (Alonzo) move a mirror, and it accidentally broke.”
She said after the U-Haul left, she and Tamika got in their car to get warm, because it was cold outside and snowing. They even invited two maintenance men working for the Franklins into the car to get warm, but they declined, she said.
Russell she heard Gregory scream Alonzo’s name from inside the house. She said she and Tamika went into the house first to see what was going on. She said Catherine and Howard Franklin were there, with the elder Franklin pointing his gun at Fletcher.
“We asked them why do you all have your guns out,” Russell went on. “Catherine said ‘It’s time for you to go, ain’t nobody gonna be here all night.’ I said the police said we could have time to move. Catherine was yelling all day, telling us to ‘get the F— out of the house.’ Greg and the old man were arguing.”
Alonzo entered the home after the two young women, she said. She said she heard Catherine shoot into the ceiling and then Tamika was shot twice in the foot.
Russell said Tamika ran outside wounded, and fell off the porch, fracturing bones in her rib cage and arm.
“When the shooting stopped, we started running outside because we didn’t know if the two maintenance men had guns,” Russell said.
She said they passed Catherine Franklin lying on the porch with her gun still in her hand, then drove home as the police were turning onto Piedmont.
“It’s not just about this shooting, but about why it occurred,” Mrs. Long said. “The Treasurer should give explicit directions to bidders about what to do if a home is occupied.”
The Treasurer’s bidding rules last year did not tell winning bidders to take eviction cases to the appropriate district court, to be handled by officials.
The real criminals are the foreclosers, including Snyder, Evans, Wojtowicz, and banks. Protest takes street March 31, 2015.
(Photos, videos, graphics added by Voice of Detroit.)
August 28, 2015
Carver Collegiate charter school students are only supposed to walk inside red lines on the floor, single-file, or face discipline.
Karran Harper Royal was pleased to be invited to join a citizens’ committee in 2006 to plan for the future of New Orleans schools. But she soon became disillusioned, convinced that the state didn’t really want citizen input—it already had a plan and was simply seeking approval.
Ninth grade was nothing like what Darrius Jones expected. Jones, 14, imagined that with high school would come more independence. Instead, he felt like he was being treated like a kid. “You had to sit a certain way,” he recalls. “You couldn’t lean, or have your chair back.” Jones says he stepped out of line once—an actual line on the floor of the hallway, which students were supposed to follow—and was sent to detention.
It was the beginning of the 2012 school year, and Jones was in the first class of students at Carver Collegiate Academy, a brand-new charter school in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Like a public school, it is funded by taxpayers and open to anyone. But as a charter, it is managed independently by a board of directors that can do its own hiring and firing, write its own policies and teach according to its own philosophy. In the case of Carver Collegiate, that philosophy is one of “no excuses”—strict rules and swift discipline.
April 15, 2014: Parents file complaint against RSD Carver schools
Carver is part of New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), the first all-charter school district in the nation. In the chaos after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana opted to completely overhaul the city’s failing public schools by putting them on the open market. Ten years later, cities and states around the country have embarked on their own charter-school experiments and are watching New Orleans closely, laser-focused on outcomes.
RSD superintendent Patrick Dobard, appointed in 2012.
Test scores have improved, according to two major reports that examine academic achievement over the past nine years. On Katrina’s 10th anniversary, RSD is being held up as a national model. The graduation rate has risen from 56 percent to 73 percent. Last year, 63 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored basic or above on state standardized tests, up from 33 percent.
But by other measures, the RSD suffers. In These Times received an advance copy of research conducted for the Network for Public Education (NPE) by University of Arizona researchers Francesca López and Amy Olson. The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations.
The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation.
“You can say until you’re blue in the face that this should be a national model, but this is one of the worst-perforing districts in one of the worst-performing states,” says NPE board member Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education professor at California State Sacramento.
However, test scores, high or low, are only a piece of the story. In a three-month investigation, In These Times interviewed teachers, parents and students to find out how they feel about the charterization of public education in New Orleans.
Community members mourned the closures of public schools that had served as neighborhood hubs. Students at no-excuses charters described feeling like they were in prison, or bootcamp. Teachers felt demoralized, like they didn’t have a voice in the classroom. Parents complained about a lack of Black teachers. In interview after interview, people said the same thing: The system doesn’t put children’s needs first.
A swift takeover
Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools were struggling. The graduation rate was 18 points below the national average. Sixty-eight percent of seventh and eighth graders were testing below basic proficiency in English, 70 percent in math.
New Orleans public school classroom destroyed by Katrina. The state proceeded to dismantle the entire district afterwards.
After the hurricane hit in August 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) laid off some 3,000 staff and 4,000 teachers. More than half its physical infrastructure was damaged beyond repair, and its tax base was displaced.
The state of Louisiana then collaborated with corporate education reformers in the most expansive overhaul ever seen in the history of public education.
In November, the state legislature raised the bar for public schools to avoid takeover. With parts of the city still underwater, 107 of New Orleans’ 128 public schools were suddenly in the hands of the all-charter Recovery School District (RSD)—a two-year-old district that previously contained only five schools.
The remains of the historic original Cass Technical High School in Detroit. Most of Detroit’s public schools have been shut down using New Orleans as a model, driving thousands of students out of the district as charter schools profit. Detroit school closings began in 2005.
“Basically, we became the dog that caught the bus,” said Leslie Jacobs, a former member of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the woman widely known as the brains behind RSD, in an interview with the Washington Monthly. “We had nothing: no schools, no buildings, no cafeteria workers, no buses.”
What they did have was the backing of the national “education reform” movement, which pushes charters and high-stakes testing. With the public-school bureaucracy out of the way, powerhouses in the reform movement, such as the Walton and Gates foundations, came calling. In a 2006 interview with Education Next magazine, Mayor Ray Nagin put it this way: “They said, ‘Look, you set up the right environment, we will fund, totally fund, brand-new schools for the city of New Orleans.’ ”
And they did.
“In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision,” writes Naomi Klein in her landmark 2007 book The Shock Doctrine. She holds up the takeover as a prime example of “disaster capitalism”: “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.”
Today, RSD oversees 70 percent of the public schools in New Orleans. OPSB still contains 16 schools, the majority of which are now charters.
Each of RSD’s charter schools is like a school district unto itself. Although RSD regulates some things—for instance, that schools have open enrollment—charters are otherwise autonomous. They have their own boards, which set rules like length of school day, dress code and hiring practices, and their own management. In Louisiana and many other states, the board must be nonprofit. But management can be either nonprofit or for-profit.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Educational Apartheid Authority
Other states have followed Louisiana’s lead. In 2012, after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder put Detroit under emergency management, the manager closed 16 city schools and handed 15 to the Education Achievement Authority, which received millions from the likes of the Kellogg and Gates foundations. In 2013, Tennessee created the Achievement School District to take over the state’s worst-performing schools; the district now runs 27 Memphis schools, 20 of them charters.
Others are sure to follow, as long as the narrative of charter success ‘holds. Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared, in 2010, that Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”
“The vast majority of public schools closed by RSD in the past five years were in poor and working class, African-American neighborhoods,” the complaint says. “Many of the schools existed for over a hundred years before being closed and had been attended by multiple generations in one family. These schools employed teachers and administrators who have taught in our communities for decades—staff who hold community knowledge, understand the hardships that face our students, and pass down our shared values. … After everything that we lost in Katrina, it has been devastating to lose our schools as well.”
Karran Harper Royal/Facebook
Karran Harper Royal, a co-author of the complaint, is a former OSPB parent who was active in education politics before the storm. She was pleased to be invited to join a citizens’ committee in 2006 to plan for the future of New Orleans schools. But Royal soon became disillusioned, convinced that the state didn’t really want citizen input—it already had a plan and was simply seeking approval.
On a muggy afternoon in June, Royal drives me past the Desire housing project, where her great-grandmother lived. As a girl, Royal spent a lot of time here. The project now sits deserted, a graveyard of small brick homes boarded up in tall grass.
Most of the project’s residents were poor and black, and most attended George Washington Carver High School in the Lower Ninth Ward. Although Royal went to a different school, many people she grew up with went there: friends, cousins, her husband.
Carver was one of the “academically unacceptable” public schools transferred to RSD after Katrina. Though its test scores were low, locals nonetheless took pride in it. An award-winning example of mid-century modern architecture, Carver had a soaring auditorium and large cafeteria built to create a sense of a village. Its daycare center and music program were renowned citywide. Carver had a strong alumni network and served as an anchor for the neighborhood, bringing people together for football games and marching band performances. Its computer lab was an important resource for locals.
Alumni of George Washington Carver High School during protest.
“Was it the best school in the city? No,” says Royal. “But did it produce great people? Yes, it did. Were there some people at Carver who didn’t make it? That’s true, too. Carver was in the middle of a very poor community.”
After the storm, RSD demolished Carver and built a modular campus in its place—portable classrooms connected by wooden boardwalks. Some alumni and community members formed George Washington Carver Charter School Association in a bid to charter the school themselves, but their three applications to RSD were turned down.
Collegiate CEO Ben Marcovitz speaking to largely African-American students.
Instead, in 2012, RSD turned the school over to Collegiate Academies, considered a leading light of the charter movement. Its flagship school, Sci Academy, had opened in New Orleans in 2008 and seen significant gains in math and English within two years. Sci Academy was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which awarded founder and CEO Ben Marcovitz a $1 million check.
Collegiate Academies is one of several growing charter networks in New Orleans modeled on what’s often referred to as the no-excuses approach. Disproportionately used in poor and minority communities, the model is characterized by longer school days (and years), frequent testing, and strict routines and behavioral codes enforced by demerit systems. Students can earn detention—and, eventually, suspension—for relatively small infractions.
In the 2012-13 school year, the three Collegiate Academies schools had the highest out-of-school suspension rates in New Orleans. Sci Academy suspended 58 percent of its students, and the two charters opened on the former Carver campus, Carver Prep and Carver Collegiate, suspended 61 and 69 percent of their students, respectively.
Princeton doctoral student Joanne Golan
There isn’t yet a robust body of research on whether the no-excuses model encourages academic success. One widely cited analysis does show that children who were randomly selected to attend “no excuses” charter schools outperformed peers who weren’t.
But other research suggests that the approach produces good rule followers but poor critical thinkers. Princeton doctoral student Joanne Golann spent 18 months conducting fieldwork in a no-excuses charter school in a Northeastern city, interviewing close to one hundred students, teachers and administrators. She found that “students, in many cases, are taught to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions and defer to authority, rather than take initiative, assert themselves and interact with ease with their teachers.” She concluded that these “schools produce worker-learners to close the achievement gap.”
Rebellion in the ranks
When Rowena McCormick Robinson attended an orientation for prospective Sci Academy parents, it seemed promising. Officials assured her that the school offered advanced placement classes, extracurriculars and an atmosphere of strict discipline. The kind of place where her bright and quiet 14-year-old son, Russell, would thrive.
Sci Academy boxes students in according to researchers.
But within weeks of starting, the teenager, who normally woke up for school on his own, didn’t want to get out of bed. “I hate going there,” he told his mom. “It’s like prison.” When she heard about the rules the school was enforcing—rules about the way the kids had to sit, the way they raised their hand—she was furious.
These kids might be rowdy, she says, and many might come from dysfunctional homes, but they weren’t that bad. She thought it was wrong that so many were being punished as though they were delinquents.
Some of the students felt the same. Darrius Jones, who had been given detention for stepping out of line at Carver Collegiate, simply transferred schools. But in 2013, other kids at Carver Prep and Carver Collegiate started talking about a revolt. On Nov. 18, 2013, nearly 100 students walked out. They printed a list of 13 concerns, including, “We are learning material that we already learned in middle school” and “We want a discipline policy that doesn’t suspend kids for every little thing.”
Ben Marcovitz, CEO of Collegiate Academies, met with students and made a plan for reforms. Last year, Collegiate Academies launched a network-wide program focused on restorative discipline methods, instructing teachers to assume a student has just forgotten a rule and to take time to explain it. “We dropped our suspension rates from 56 to 12 percent in one year,” he says.
But the no-excuses approach shows no signs of going out of fashion. The rapidly growing charter network Knowledge is Power, for example, runs seven of RSD’s 80 charter schools under a no-excuses model, along with 176 more in “educationally underserved” communities across the country.
Younger, whiter and non-union
Teachers have young Black students pledge to “Work Hard” at Arthur Ashe RSD elementary school.
Another flashpoint in the Carver student protests was the racial makeup of the teaching staff. “There are no black teachers,” the complaint read. “The only black role models we have at the school are janitors, cafeteria workers, secretaries, security guards, and coaches.”
That bothered Rowena, too. The teachers at Sci, she says were “young and white” and didn’t understand anything about the culture. “There are a few who really care,” she says, “but they are thrown into this without knowing what they’re getting into.”
Collegiate made an effort to increase teacher diversity after the walkout, going from an 8 percent black teaching force to 30 percent.
Overall, however, New Orleans’ teaching landscape has shifted dramatically since Katrina. Before the storm, 73 percent of Orleans Parish’s classroom teachers were black. Nearly half of the teachers had been more than 15 years of experience. They were under a collective bargaining agreement with the United Teachers of New Orleans, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate.
Detroit uses Teach For America teachers, mostly white, in its charter schools.
After the OSPB layoffs, Teach for America (TFA), a nonprofit that trains college grads to teach in underprivileged communities, swept in to fill the gap, tripling the number of new recruits going to New Orleans.
The most recent teacher data available, from 2013, shows that the New Orleans teaching force is now 54 percent black, while the student body is 87 percent. The teachers are more likely than before the storm to come from an alternative certification program, such as TeachNOLA or TFA. RSD teachers average seven years of experience, OPSB charter teachers 12, and OPSB public school teachers 17. Only a few OPSB schools are unionized, and RSD is entirely non-union (although some organizing campaigns are underway).
Swarthmore education researcher Thomas S. Dee.
Do these things matter? A 2005 study by Swarthmore researcher Thomas S. Dee found that teachers of a different race than a student were significantly more likely to evaluate that student as disruptive, inattentive and rarely completing homework.
Certainly, among New Orleans residents interviewed by In These Times, there was a sense that the loss of experienced black teachers has been detrimental to black students. Rowena’s mother, Roberta, taught art in a parochial school in Louisiana. “When I was a teacher, I was parenting,” she says. “What helped them so much was me being able to meet them where there were, with whatever they lacked, or needed extra. … These teachers, they’re not ready. For whatever reason, white folk fear black folks so much. They come in with the fear.”
A large body of research shows that teacher experience has a positive impact on student learning, especially after a teacher gets through the steep learning curve of the first three years.
Teacher retention has been a challenge for charter schools across the country. RSD charter schools in New Orleans have an average annual turnover of 27 percent. An analysis of National Center for Education Statistics by the University of Arizona’s López and Olson found that 46 percent of charter school teachers in Louisiana reported plans to leave, compared to 6 percent of public school teachers.
One of the main reasons that teachers leave a post, according to Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies teacher turnover, is the issue of “voice.” Teachers want to feel like they have a say in the classroom.
Teaching Black students to cook at Arthur Ashe.
This was what bothered Kelly Pickett, one of the young, white teachers who started teaching in New Orleans after the storm. She’d been a chef for 10 years before going back to school at 28 to get her bachelor’s in early childhood education. Her first teaching post was in a first-grade classroom at Arthur Ashe Elementary, an RSD charter with a no-excuses approach. She’d known it was a strict school, but hadn’t fully understood how strict. She describes the experience as “horrible.”
The philosophy is “all about control,” she says. Teachers were instructed to keep students in the “STARR” position: Sit straight, Track the speaker with your eyes, And be Responsive and Respectful. Teachers had to post students’ test scores on the classroom walls. Bar charts showed where each student stood in comparison to the rest of the class and how much they needed to improve to raise the average so the whole class could win candy or a pizza party. The scores also helped determine teachers’ pay.
Classroom behavior stoplight chart.
Pickett had to enforce a complicated system of warning and shout-outs on a behavioral stoplight at the front of the classroom. A student starts at green; two warnings move her to yellow; two more, she’s at red and out of the classroom. Positive “shout-outs,” move students in the other direction. Shout-outs are for things like helping a classmate or paying attention, and warnings for things like sitting improperly (not in STARR position) or for interrupting during a lesson.
Pickett disagreed with the rules, but had no choice but to enforce them.
“The kids are smart. Really smart,” Pickett says. “Some of them find their rewards in this system, others see no point and act out deliberatively to get out. They know exactly how to derail the system. I literally have to scream at them, and I hate it.”
After one semester, Pickett quit.
Some are more welcome than others
In the high-stakes education system in New Orleans, a no-excuses approach applies not just to individual students, but to schools. Those that fail to boost test scores can and do lose their charters.
According to a recent survey of 30 principals from both RSD and OSPB schools, many feel pressure to compete for the right kind of students.
The 2015 report, funded by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, found that about a third used means to screen out undesirable students (“creaming,” as the authors described it), even though this is technically not allowed under RSD’s open-admissions policy. One school stopped advertising open spots and enrolled 100 fewer kids, forgoing funding, rather than attract “less-capable students.”
In other words, the report stated, “Some schools in New Orleans preferred to remain under-enrolled than to attract students who might hurt their test scores. … They viewed these practices as just part of their effort to create a coherent school culture or as a necessity for survival in a market-based environment.”
Among these practices have been illegal attempts to exclude special education students. This spring, Lagniappe Academies, an elementary school in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood, lost its charter license after the state board of education found that administrators had deliberately screened out special needs students by refusing them services and creating a Do Not Call list of families they didn’t want to return the following year. Last year, Louisiana settled a suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of 10 special-needs students in New Orleans schools—seven of which were charters—alleging that they’d been denied services and unfairly disciplined.
No-excuses charter schools around the country have been accused of disciplining underperforming students in order to push them out. Most deny that claim, but what’s clear is that their strict demerit systems lead to high expulsion rates.
Even if they’re not expelled, students leave New Orleans’ RSD schools at unusually high rates. At 61 percent, the graduation rate is the second-lowest in Louisiana. What happens to the other 39 percent? Only about 3 percent are listed as dropouts; the rest are listed as having switched schools or left the state. But no one really knows for sure. There’s no centralized database to track individual kids from K-12. Youth advocates say this makes it easy for kids to fall through the cracks. Fifiteen percent of New Orleans youth ages 16 to 19 aren’t working or in school, 6 points above the national average.
Rebuilding community power
The 10th anniversary of Katrina has sparked renewed interest in the New Orleans model. A recent Chicago Tribune editorial yearned for a hurricane to strike Chicago so that it, too, could have a “reset” to do away with “restrictive mandates” from government and demands from teachers unions.
Long-time Detroit education activist Helen Moore (center), attended the New Orleans conference and reported back from it at a People’s Assembly in Detroit August 29, 2015. She is flanked by (l) former City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson and (r) Cecily McClellan, VP of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA).
But the anniversary has also brought together the budding grassroots movement that’s fighting against the larger push for corporate education reform.
In early August, Kristen Buras, author of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, helped organize a two-day conference in New Orleans on community-centered education research. Social justice advocates, educators and union leaders from 10 cities around the country came together out of concern about a loss of community control over schools. Most, not coincidentally, are from urban school districts with high poverty rates and large populations of students of color.
Many who have seen charters replace traditional public schools report the same problems that New Orleans residents describe: closures of public schools that held neighborhoods together, younger and less experienced teachers, the loss of union jobs, experimental teaching practics that can be rigid or harsh, cherrypicking of students and rapid teacher burn-out.
In an email to In These Times, New York University education professor and NPE founder Diane Ravitch summarized the emerging, less-rosy narrative of the New Orleans model, “That model requires firing all the teachers, no matter their performance, allowing them to reapply for a job, and replacing many of them with inexperienced TFA recruits. That model requires wiping out public schools and replacing them with privately managed schools that set their own standards for admission, discipline, expulsion, and are financially opaque. These heavy-handed tactics require a suspension of democracy that would not be tolerated in a white suburb, but can be done to powerless urban districts where the children are black and Hispanic.”
The good news, says Buras, is that, “Community-based activists experiencing this model are starting to connect with one another. The narrative is starting to change.”
Sarah Cobarrubias, Ethan Corey and Karen Gwee contributed research and reporting to this article.