Our Editorial: Teachers better off without Steve Conn

The Detroit News

Just eight months into his tenure as president of Detroit’s teachers union, Steve Conn has protested himself right out of a job. It’s surprising it took this long. Conn’s colleagues on the Detroit Federation of Teachers executive board had enough of his antics, and last week they fired him.

Conn took office in January after winning a runoff election by a close margin. It didn’t take long for some union leaders and teachers to start getting alarmed by his leadership style. Many union members thought Conn cared only about promoting his own agenda in his bombastic way. The DFT represents 4,000 members.

They also didn’t care for Conn’s close association with the radical civil rights protest group By Any Means Necessary. In many of Conn’s organized union protests and rallies, members of this group often showed up.

Earlier this year, DFT executive vice president Ivy Bailey started thinking recalling Conn may be a possibility, but she said she’d rather sit down with him and work things out. She also wanted union membership to be on board with removing Conn.

Apparently, working things out proved too difficult, which wasn’t surprising since compromise isn’t in Conn’s playbook.

And he’s not leaving quietly. After the DFT’s executive board announced its decision Wednesday to remove him for misconduct, Conn issued a rambling press release calling the recall an “inexcusable crime” and saying he’ll continue fighting the board’s decision. He’s planning to file a lawsuit.

Conn also wants a “mass organizing meeting” and he’s asking union members to circulate a petition to recall Bailey and other executive board members who voted him out of office.

“My declaration to you, the membership of the DFT, is that the Executive Board will not get away with their act of betrayal. I will not yield. I will not allow their clique of bureaucrats to overthrow our union democracy,” Conn wrote.

Good luck with that. The union should put this chapter behind it.

Detroit Public Schools has enough problems right now, with its growing debt crisis and declining enrollment. Significant changes are on the horizon for the district, and its teachers need a stable leader more than ever.

For now, Bailey will assume the top leadership role until an election for a new president.

Bailey seems to have a much more even-keeled leadership style, and she’s expressed a willingness to negotiate with DPS emergency manager Darnell Earley. Bailey also served on a committee with the Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s Schoolchildren, which issued recommendations for the city’s schools in March.

Because of her willingness to negotiate calmly with administrators, Conn claims, “Ivy Bailey and her followers know that their actions will only serve to perpetuate the takeover and destruction of our public schools.”

But Bailey and the board had more concrete criticisms of Conn, including these misconduct charges: illegal cancellation of meetings, illegal attempts to convene special meetings, and failure to preside over meetings in accordance with the bylaws; unauthorized affiliation of the DFT with By Any Means Necessary; failure to investigate abuse of members; and failure to pay per capita dues.

The union board made the right call in ousting Conn. In their next vote, members should make sure they make a better choice of president.