Monday, January 11, 2016

The Wrath of Steve Conn: Wildcat Sickout in Detroit After Randi Weingarten Undermines Union - Will Detroit Influence Friedrichs Decision?

A “substantial” number of teachers from at least 40 schools in Detroit’s public school district will participate in a “sickout” on Monday, the Guardian has learned. The move for teachers to simultaneously call in sick, fueled by frustration over large class sizes and “abominable” working conditions, could close nearly half the district.
Finally, some of you might be saying, a teacher union showing some militancy. Not so fast. The teacher union, which has been even more weakened than it was due to repeated Randi/AFT interventions, seems to be playing no role as they usually do in putting the breaks on militancy.

Nor consider this an outrage: "An estimated 41 cents out of every state dollar appropriated for students in Michigan is spent on debt service, according to an analysis by the Citizens Research Council."

Imagine that. Have you heard a word from Randi and crew that taking away almost half the money from children for debt service is obscene and must be resisted? Screw the bondholders. They took their shot and lost.

What happens when there is not much of a union left to sell out?

What happens if Friedrichs, opening today at SCOTUS, weakens a union to such an extent that teachers left to their own devices and without a union to put the breaks on them actually begin to organize themselves?

Don't think that this threat and what is going on in Detroit won't have some influence on the decision. People in power, from state and local governments through school boards may be seeing the nightmare of not having cozy unions like the UFT and AFT around to undermine militancy.
Friday’s closures brought to five the number of DPS buildings that were closed at least one day this week because of teacher sickouts, a tactic former Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn takes credit for implementing.... Detroit News
Detroit is an example of how Unity Caucus will undermine a local in danger of going rogue. We've reported on how Randi and AFT crew took charge in Detroit after Steve Conn was elected president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers by having him charged with something or other and throwing him out of the union.
Conditions in classrooms are “abominable”, said Steve Conn, a teacher and former president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers who was removed from office for alleged misconduct in August. Conn has vowed to contest those charges.
Detroit has been on our list of Randi Sellouts since she brokered another one of those contracts loaded with ed deform provisions that ultimately
undermine teachers and the union (see Newark).

Given the history of Randi/Unity Caucus non-militancy, to me it was clear that the DFT now under her control would have little to do with a sickout. Our leaders are perfectly comfortable with debt service coming first, in contrast to our pals in Chicago who have put the influence of the banks in siphoning money out of schools front and center.

Now for my anti-left/social justice friends out there, Steve Conn is from the left and a big social justice guy. That infuses militancy not stops it.

In fact, the only group to oppose Randi and her Unity crew at recent AFT elections is Steve Conn's By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).

In the articles below I don't see one comment out of the union. Let's watch this play out when Randi offers to come in and "mediate". She despises Conn and this should be fun. (I have some great video of Steve disrupting Randi's speech at a rally in Detroit during the AFT2012 convention.)

If you want some background here are some ednotes links to the Detroit situation going back to 2008:
Jan 17, 2015 ... Randi's Nightmare: DETROIT TEACHERS ELECT STEVE CONN FROM EON/ BAMN TO HEAD DFT. Randi must be banging her head against ...

Aug 4, 2015 ... The Detroit Federation of Teachers executive board put president Steve Conn on trial this morning for conduct detrimental to the union.

Jan 28, 2015 ... Conn, who has run for DFT president about a dozen times before, credits his victory to members being fed up with the "fiasco disaster" that ...
Nov 17, 2008 ... So what's going on in Detroit with a slate of pro Green Dot so-called "reformers" ( see post previous to this) and Steve Conn running in the ...
Dec 6, 2010 ... Detroit teacher Steve Conn (above center) spoke to the Peace and Justice Caucus of the American Federation of Teachers on July 10, 2010 ...

Dec 9, 2015 ... Aug 4, 2015 - The Detroit Federation of Teachers executive board put president Steve Conn on trial this morning for conduct detrimental to the ...

Detroit braces for 'sickout' by teachers frustrated by class sizes and conditions

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/10/detroit-sickout-teachers-frustrated-class-sizes-con

A ‘substantial’ number of educators are expected to be absent from at least 40 schools in a district facing financial calamity with liabilities of $3.5bn



A “substantial” number of teachers from at least 40 schools in Detroit’s public school district will participate in a “sickout” on Monday, the Guardian has learned. The move for teachers to simultaneously call in sick, fueled by frustration over large class sizes and “abominable” working conditions, could close nearly half the district.



Detroit teachers have recently staged numerous such organized mass absences from work, prompting closures at some of the largest schools in the city of 680,000.
State and local education officials have criticized what they call an “unethical” approach to raising concerns that they say hurts students the most.

Teachers say students are already devastated by conditions in the district, which is facing financial calamity with liabilities of $3.5bn.

Last week, nearly a half-dozen schools closed for at least one day due to teacher sickouts. On Monday that number could climb, according to two sources with knowledge of the plan who spoke to the Guardian.

It is unclear what impact the pledges will have on school closures, but such a large-scale demonstration could prompt the closure of nearly half the districts’ 103 schools, which include an estimated 47,000 students.

Conditions in classrooms are “abominable”, said Steve Conn, a teacher and former president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers who was removed from office for alleged misconduct in August. Conn has vowed to contest those charges.

“I’ve been a resident of Detroit for 30 years … my daughter grew up in the neighborhood, went to Detroit public schools, and the conditions increasingly, especially since 2007 with the financial crisis, have been awful,” he told the Guardian.

Another source with knowledge of plans for the demonstration said 90% of teachers at one school had voted to participate in the sickout. Organizers received “pledges of substantial participation” from teachers in at least 40 schools, the source said.

Detroit’s public schools have been a problem for Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, a Republican who ushered the city into the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. Most observers agree the success of Detroit is contingent upon whether its schools can be fixed.

Snyder has made a $715m proposal to overhaul the failing district in 2016. It has so far received little support in the Michigan legislature.

Asked about the spate of sickouts, David Murray, a spokesman for Snyder, said: “Detroit children need to be in school. In addition to their education, it’s where many children get their best meals and better access to the social services they need. There are certainly problems that [need] to be addressed, quickly.”

Snyder’s plan would eliminate debt in the district that is equal to $1,100 per child, Murray said. That was “money that could be better spent in the classroom, lowering class sizes, raising pay and improving benefits”.
Tom Pedroni, an associate professor at Wayne State University, said the governor’s plan was commendable for “taking seriously the notion that Detroit public schools needs debt relief”.

“We know that with the current debt figures if the issue is not addressed soon, Detroit public schools students will be losing [nearly half of the state’s per-pupil funding total],” Pedroni said, adding: “It’s unconscionable that students lose that to debt service.”

The problem with Snyder’s plan, Pedroni said, was that it relied on governing the school district with a board of appointees, not elected members. Since 2009, under a state-appointed emergency manager, the elected board has been effectively neutered.

“There’s currently a lot of debate over whether those appointees for the new Detroit school board [in Snyder’s proposal] would be mayoral appointees or gubernatorial appointees,” Pedroni said.

“But to me, really all of those are inexcusable because what I think we see happening in the district in Detroit is really an indictment of the sort of heavy-handed power from the executive branch without any checks or balances.”

Pedroni said this was similar to what has taken place in the nearby city of Flint. There, a state-appointed emergency manager has been alleged to have decided to use a local river as the city’s main water source. The move has been linked to an increased level of lead in household water supply.
When in 1999 the state first stepped in and overhauled the governance of Detroit schools, the district’s budget carried a $93m-surplus. According to an analysis by the Citizens Research Council, a Michigan-based policy research group, in the most recent fiscal year the district reported a budget deficit of nearly $216m.

An estimated 41 cents out of every state dollar appropriated for students is spent on debt service, according to the council’s report.

“Despite being under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009, Detroit public schools, the state’s largest district, is failing academically and financially,” the report said.

Despite a depleted school enrollment, class sizes have increased and teachers have repeatedly taken pay cuts. Only one-third of high school students are proficient in reading, according to Snyder’s office.

Teachers say students are being judged unfairly. In an open letter to the Detroit public schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who blasted teachers for the sickout protests last week, fourth-grade teacher Pam Namyslowski said pupils had been “set up to fail in every way”.

“We ARE [the students’] voice,” Namyslowski wrote. “We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles.

“In the winter, we often work in freezing rooms with our coats on with them. In the summertime, we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset.”

Successes in the classroom typically go unnoticed, Namyslowski continued, as “most cannot be measured or displayed on a data wall”.

“We, as teachers, know our students and what they need. It is heartbreaking to see that our students don’t have what they need and certainly not what they deserve.”

In a statement released on Sunday, Earley said: “It’s clear that teachers are feeling an overwhelming sense of frustration over the challenges that they and all [Detroit Public Schools] employees face as they do their jobs each day. We understand and share their frustration.

“However, given the reality of the district’s financial distress, it is becoming clearer every day that the only way that we are going to be able to address these serious issues in any way is through an investment in DPS by the Michigan legislature.

“Unfortunately, obtaining that support becomes more challenging with each closure of a school due to a teacher sick-out.”

A teachers’ protest was planned to coincide with the sick outs, at noon on Monday outside the Fisher building in downtown Detroit.
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State superintendent calls on teachers to end sickouts


Detroit — Michigan’s state school superintendent called Friday on Detroit teachers to stop the sickouts that have caused repeated school closures this week and over the past two months.
“I understand that teachers in Detroit Public Schools have real concerns about the financial, academic, and structural future of their schools, but for the sakes of their students, they need to be in the classrooms teaching,” Brian Whiston said in a statement issued after classes were canceled Friday at East English Village Preparatory Academy and Mann Learning Community.
Friday’s closures brought to five the number of DPS buildings that were closed at least one day this week because of teacher sickouts, a tactic former Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn takes credit for implementing.
“I am calling on teachers in Detroit public schools to end their systematic plans of not reporting to work. ...,” Whiston said. “I will be calling a meeting of state and local stakeholders to sit down, discuss the issues, and finally put together a viable solution that will move education forward for the children in the city of Detroit.”
Whiston issued his statement a day after the chairman of the Michigan House Appropriations Committee on School Aid called on him to sanction the teachers union.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, said Whiston should consider “all available options” and called the sickout “selfish behavior and a blatant attempt to circumvent the law barring the DFT from walking away from their responsibilities and striking.”
The leader of a statewide association that advocates for school officials also called for the teachers to be punished.
“I think any time people use kids for a political statement, I think there has to be ramifications,” Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, said Friday during a taping of the public affairs television show “Off the Record.”
“I’m not giving a broad brush over every teacher that they’re not there for kids, and probably even the teachers who are doing this are there for kids, but politics can’t take over what’s going on in the classroom, especially with the types of student achievement that we need to get in the city of Detroit,” Wigent said.
The sickouts have been staged by teachers upset by large class sizes, pay and benefit concessions, and Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to create a new, debt-free Detroit school district.
Conn said he and a contingent of DPS teachers will meet at 4 p.m. Sunday at Gracious Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church to plan their next moves, which might include a full-blown strike.
Conn was ousted as president of the DFT and expelled from the union in August after the local’s executive board found him guilty of internal misconduct charges.
In a statement issued Friday by the American Federation of Teachers, interim DFT president Ivy Bailey said Sunday’s meeting is not sanctioned by the union.
“The Detroit Federation of Teachers has learned that Steve Conn is holding a meeting on Sunday to talk about further actions,” Bailey said. “Let me be clear: This meeting is not a DFT-sponsored meeting, as has been mistakenly reported.”
Besides the two schools closed Friday, classes this week were canceled at Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School and Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School. That means roughly 6,730 students have missed class because of sickouts.
Teacher sickouts also resulted in several school closures in November and December, including Bates Academy, Mason Elementary, West Side Academy and Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School.
District officials at that time sent “notices of investigation” to teachers thought to be involved in sickouts on Nov. 3 and Dec. 1, 10 and 11, according to the DFT.
In a press conference Thursday at King High School, DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley said that while he did not begrudge teachers the right to protest working conditions, it is “unethical” for them to do it in a way that takes learning time away from students.
“These actions, caused by a minority of teachers, disrupt the efforts intended for those who can ill afford to lose instruction time,” Earley said Thursday.
In a statement posted on the DFT’s website, Bailey criticized Earley for “blaming the teachers — the glue that holds this system together.”
“While we don’t condone the action taken by a small number of our members, we understand the utter frustration underlying it,” she said.

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