Radical union boss bad news for DPS
Get ready for a raucous year at Detroit Public Schools. The union representing the state’s largest school district made that loud and clear when members chose radical Cass Tech teacher and activist Steve Conn as their leader on Saturday.
Conn isn’t wasting time to stir the pot. At a rally Tuesday, the day he was sworn in, he laid out his agenda in plain terms. Ultimately, he says he wants to fight the changes put in place by the state and by the emergency managers who have led the district in recent years — including the Education Achievement Authority.
“We are fed up with the 16 years of state-sponsored destruction of education,” Conn said.
His election poses a challenge for Gov. Rick Snyder, as he seeks a new governing model for the district. Any effective education reforms depend on co-operation from teachers, and Conn’s history as an activist has been confrontation, not cooperation.
The run-off election had pitted Conn, representing the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary slate, against Edna Reaves, the candidate for the United Teacher Rights slate. Reaves, executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, had the support of retiring union president Keith Johnson.
The election was close, with Conn getting 614 votes and Reaves 599.
But it was enough to place him at the helm of the teachers union. Results from the initial DFT election, released in early December, had Reaves with 390 votes for president; Conn had 300.
But the union’s rules require the winning candidate to earn 50 percent of the vote, plus one, so the run-off was necessary.
Conn had vowed he would succeed in the run-off, and apparently his campaigning paid off.
Johnson is no fan of Conn and has voiced his concerns about the union’s well-being under his successor. As Johnson warned: “I’m gravely concerned about the future of this union. Steve has a single answer to everything and that is strike, walk out, protest.”
It’s hard to imagine how such an approach would benefit students. But given Conn’s strident actions in the past, there’s every reason for concern.
For example, Conn was suspended from the DFT in 2011 after he disrupted a swearing-in ceremony for Johnson. And in 2004, he was arrested at a DPS protest that prevented buses from picking up students.
Conn will likely push against any reforms — financial and academic — coming from the latest state-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who started his post this month. Earley has signaled a willingness to work with Conn, but that seems unlikely. As Earley faces a $170 million deficit, Conn is saying things like the debt should just be “canceled.”
In a statement posted to the BAMN website, Conn says he’s organizing a mass meeting this Sunday “to discuss and vote on a program of action to rebuild the union and to save public education.”
All eyes will be on Conn to see whether this plan of action reflects his past preference for destructive protest.
We hope he will start his tenure in a spirit of cooperation.
The last thing DPS needs is a rabble-rouser representing the district’s teachers.