Teachers shut DPS May 2, 3 not only over pay threats, but dismantling of nation’s largest majority-Black school district
Race a central issue—DFT President Ivy Bailey
“Rise up to defend jobs, schools, children, strike to win”—Former DFT pres. Steve Conn
Senate, House bills all destroy Detroit Public Schools, pay off banks
By Diane Bukowski
May 6, 2016
DETROIT – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s racist plan to obliterate the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) district by July 1, forcing city residents to pay off $3.9 billion in operating and bonded debt incurred under state control, is the common denominator of legislation just passed in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature.
It is also a chief factor underlying the massive teacher “sick-outs” of May 2 and 3, which shut down 94 of 97 schools left in a district which once had 261 schools, and educated 92 percent of the city’s children, not the 42 percent left today. DPS has the second highest number of charter schools in the U.S., after New Orleans, which have drained billions from its per-pupil funding, mostly for profit.
In an “Open Letter to the Detroit Community” May 4, Judge Rhodes said regarding the sick-outs, “[this] unfortunate and unnecessary strike … threatens the community’s ability to achieve our shared goal of a new, locally governed DPS that can give our students the best possible education.”
He added that the actions kept 45,000 children out of school, depriving them of free breakfasts and lunches, and inconveniencing their parents.
He did not address the issue of the genocide committed on the total of 167,000 students who attended DPS in 1994.
That number has dwindled as over 164 DPS schools closed under orders from a succession of state-appointed CEO’s and Emergency Managers under Governors Engler, Granholm and Snyder, and hundreds of thousands of Detroit homes housing these children were foreclosed through illegal mortgage and taxation scams.
“This is not just about our teachers, it is about the destruction of DPS,” Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) President Ivy Bailey told VOD May 4. “It shouldn’t just be on back of the educators who work here to take on this fight. The entire city needs to get involved.
“The plan is to split our school system. This is an atrocity. Detroiters’ tax money will be going to pay off the debt for schools we don’t even have any more. We want a fully elected and empowered school board, and to keep our system the way it is. The bigger question is why is this happening to Detroit? They don’t want to call it an issue when it comes to race—why not? What’s the problem? We were in better shape under our elected school board than we are now are under an EM.”
DPS’ students are approximately 88 percent Black, while the city has a child poverty rate of 59 percent, the highest in the U.S. Detroit also has the second highest number of charter schools in the country after New Orleans, which have drained billions from the DPS budget. New Orleans itself is 58.8 percent African-American, down from 66.7 percent in 2000.
The white power structure used Hurricane Katrina to shut down the city’s public schools, housing and health systems, and relocate thousands of Blacks out of the city after Katrina.
Bailey referred to packages of bills in both the State Senate and State House that would terminate the Detroit school district effective July 1. A skeleton structure would remain solely to pay off the district’s debt with millages and property taxes. The amount will increase under provisions providing for “re-financing” of that debt, meaning stretching it out over a longer term, with higher interest rates. It will mean property tax increases and more millage votes.
A “community school district” including the population of charter schools in Detroit, answering to the State Financial Review Board created under the Detroit bankruptcy plan, would replace DPS. Both its Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer would be appointed by the state. Elections for a new school board would be held this August, but under the House version of the plan, it would not take power until Jan. 2018, after a board appointed by Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan assumes duties for the community district meanwhile.
Despite the uproar about the massive debt DPS has incurred under state control, its ability to take on more debt would be expanded under both sets of bills.
During previous years, DPS debt, payment of which is controlled by the New York Mellon Bank through a state-appointed trustee, has taken the largest portion of per-pupil aid provided by the State of Michigan through mandated debt set-asides. (Chart below provides an example.) Add to that the fact that per-pupil aid is set by the amount of property taxes each district pays, with the wealthier districts getting a proportionately larger share of the pie.
“The state should have the responsibility for all the debt incurred under emergency managers and state-appointed CEO’s since the 1999 takeover,” Bailey said. “We also want a forensic audit, but Rhodes said the district doesn’t have money to do that. The state should want to find out where all the money went. All teachers want to do is work for a school system they can trust, that respects teachers, and puts its students first.”
What the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) calls a “lock-out,” precipitated by Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes’ order to stop teachers’ pay June 30, ended May 4.
Rhodes verbally withdrew the attack on teachers who prorate their paychecks through the summer months, and followed up with a vague written statement saying teachers are “legally entitled to be paid in full” for their work, and that DPS “will honor that legal obligation.”
Steven Conn, a long-time DPS math teacher at Cass Technical High School, was recently ousted as DFT President but is appealing that action to the International Union. He and a “Strike to Win” faction among the teachers are calling for the strike to continue until Snyder’s plan is defeated.
After Katrina, state officials in Louisiana created a highly unsuccessful all charter-school district for New Orleans, known as the “Recovery School District.” Conn and others fear that is the veiled intention of the Snyder plan for DPS.
“Certainly the teachers are very angry,” he said. “Their expectations during the sick-out went well beyond just getting paid for what they had to get paid for anyway. We have to translate it into defeating the Snyder plan.”
He said he believes that the DFT leadership and Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, are supporting the Senate version of Snyder’s plan, which does not include the wholesale anti-union provisions of the House version, passed yesterday, although it still includes the dissolution of DPS and pay-outs to the banks.
“They want to get their union dues, and are criminals for selling members down the drain,” Conn said. “Why would they trust Rhodes’ statement—he is a professional liar, and an agent of a governor who is a professional liar. The more we pull punches, the harder it gets to fight. Teachers are not bluffing. I think they feel they can organize themselves. The sick-outs [earlier sick-outs took place in January to protest school conditions] are an expression of power that’s still there.”
A flier distributed by the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary Coalition concludes, “Today, in the wake of the Flint and Detroit water crises, Gov. Snyder is the most unpopular and weakest government in modern Michigan history. His own party has deserted him. It would be ridiculous for the DFT to prop up his political corpse and help him get his essentially dead plan through the State Legislature. The power of, by and for the Black, Latino and working people of Detroit holds the only possibility of solving our fundamental problems. (See full flier at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/BAMN-flier-Stay-Out-May3-v2.pdf.
The EON/BAMN flier is reminiscent of the last ditch efforts of Local 207 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to save the City of Detroit through a 2012 wildcat strike at the Wastewater Treatment Plant which they hoped would generate a city-wide walk-out.
Their efforts were sabotaged by AFSCME Council 25’s top leadership including Pres. Al Garrett, his assistant Ed McNeil, and Staff Representative Catherine Phillips.
These “leaders” did not even bother to attend the funerals of militant long-time local leaders who died too early under the stress of battle. They included Local 207 President John Riehl, who died at the age of 62 in 2015, and Bus Mechanics Local 312 President Leamon Wilson, who died at the age of 55 the year before.
The lessons of the Detroit bankruptcy have not stopped the Snyder/Rhodes “Hurricane Katrina” roaring towards DPS, after destroying the City of Detroit under Rhodes’ Chapter 9 bankruptcy plan.
Under that plan, city workers lost not only large parts of their pensions, pay and benefits, but residents lost nearly all the city’s assets, including the $6 billion Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
The city’s creditors walked off with 95.9 percent of their original claims, including lucrative assets like the Joe Louis Arena, the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, and other riverfront property, while retirees got an average of 13.5 percent of their claims. (See chart below.) The city’s after bankruptcy debt climbed 300 percent.
The Senate and House are haggling over which set of bills is more pro-charter. The House versions, passed May 4, have numerous anti-union provisions in them, including the use of non-certified teachers, the elimination of seniority considerations, non-recognition of the unions after the takeover, severe penalties for teachers who conduct “sick-outs,” and a prohibition against a federal audit of the DPS budget. The latest version of House Bill 5384 adds a $250,000 appropriations clause to make it referendum-proof.
The Senate versions of the bills include a seven-member advisory “Detroit Education Committee” appointed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, which will have the power to site both public and charter schools. The so-called “Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s Schoolchildren,” led by the Rev. Wendell Anthony, who supported the Detroit bankruptcy plan as a trustee of the Detroit General Retirees System, and Walbridge Aldinger CEO John Rakolta, a firm supporter of Gov. Snyder, has called for the passage of the Senate bills.
The final legislative battle is boiling down to a battle between Republicans vs. Democrats, with neither offering a genuine solution to revive and restore the Detroit Public Schools district and the future of Detroit’s children. DPS was founded in 1842, around the time that kidnapped Africans across the country fought slavery during the Civil War and built public schools during the Reconstruction Era after the War. Their struggle established a large part of the groundwork for the public school system nationally.
After all, kidnapped Africans were lynched for learning to read and write, for educating themselves. Many Detroiters feel the destruction of the Detroit Public Schools District is nothing but another mass lynching, genocide carried out against Detroit’s Black population.
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