Conn beats favored slate for Detroit Teachers leader

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Detroit – — The Detroit Federation of Teachers membership on Saturday elected as their new president the decades long nemesis of the outgoing leader.

Steve Conn, who has taught math in Detroit Public Schools since 1986, most recently at Cass Technical High School, defeated Edna Reaves, executive vice president of the local and associate of longtime Detroit Teachers leader Keith Johnson, who is retiring after six years as DFT president.

"I'm stunned at this moment," Johnson said Saturday evening after the results of the run-off election were announced. "I'm gravely concerned about the future of this union. Steve has a single answer to everything and that is strike, walk out, protest. He doesn't understand that whether you disagree with someone or dislike them, you still have to work with them to move this district forward."

Johnson described Conn as his nemesis of nearly 30 years. He said that while Reaves lost the presidency other candidates on the United Teacher Rights slate won their respective offices.

"The only saving grace we may have is that the rest of the officers and board members are reasonable people and they will not allow (Conn) and his personal agenda to destroy the union.

Conn said his election is testament to Detroit public schools teachers wanting a progressive agenda and that they are "fed up with the destruction of their jobs, their schools and their students. They voted to stand up."

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed the fourth emergency manager in six years to run Detroit Public Schools. In naming Darnell Earley to lead the state's largest school district, Snyder said appointing another emergency manager at DPS was not his preferred option but remains necessary.

Snyder acknowledged the district, which has a deficit of more than $160 million and falling enrollment, needs work on its finances and academics

A statement on Saturday night from Detroit Public Schools said the district's "focus is on its more than 47,000 students and providing them with the quality education that they require and deserve. We will continue to work collaboratively with the leadership of the Detroit Federation of Teachers to ensure that we achieve this critical objective.

"The future of Detroit Public Schools, the City of Detroit and Southeast Michigan depends on all of us working together to prepare our students to become active, productive members of our community," read the statement from the district.

The DFT results released Dec. 7 showed Reaves, the leader of the United Teacher Rights slate with 390 votes for president. Conn, the candidate for the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary slate, received the second-most votes with 300.

On Saturday, Conn garnered 614 votes and Reaves 599.

"Detroit Public Schools teachers, students and parents have been under seige by so-called reformers and this has been a disater for the last 16 years," "That all is ending now. We have said 'enough.' We are ready to stand up," said Conn.

Conn, who takes office Jan. 20 as head of the 4,000-member union, said he is planning a "mass union meeting" likely to be held Feb. 1 "to map out a plan for public education" in Detroit.

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