Saturday, February 26, 2011

Detroit to Shutter Half Its Schools—Class Sizes of 60

Robert Bobb, financial manager for Detroit Public Schools (DPS), has been given permission by the state of Michigan to close 70 more schools, bringing high school class sizes up to 60 students per class. This would amount to shutting down half of the city’s remaining public schools. (60 schools were already closed over the past two years.) The state superintendent, Michael Flanagan, gave the green light Monday, so long as the plan is implemented immediately.

Bob Bobb asserts that his plan is necessary to close a large DPS budget hole. However, considering the catastrophic consequences of the cuts, a more likely explanation is that Bobb is deliberately destroying DPS as a viable entity to make way for privacy hawks to swoop in and scoop up the rubble.  Arne Duncan once called Detroit ground zero in the fight for education reform, which, coming from Duncan, was certainly a call for a massive wave of privatization. In 2008, a slate of Rhee-supported pro-charter school teachers ran in DFT elections.

The rush toward privatization is not limited to the creation of more charter schools. Bobb has also steamrollered through a plan to outsource custodial services to the union-busting French firm Sodexo, $43.9 million plan that would crush AFSCME Local 347 and force maintenance workers to give up their pensions and job security.

DPS teachers have seen their pay slashed $10,000 per year for the past two years, in an agreement made with their union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT). This was just part of a sell-out contract made with the collaboration of the AFT and its President Randi Weingarten, seen by many as the worst teacher contract ever. In this contract, DFT President Keith Johnson gave away seniority rights, merit pay, and slashed wages and benefits.

Johnson is currently serving as president of AFT, after recent elections that were marred by corruption. Johnson claimed victory despite accusations of vote fraud, and hundreds of uncounted ballots. Challenger Steve Conn claims that he won the election by 40 votes and demanded a hand recount, which the union refused, in violation of its own rules. Johnson is now attempting to expel Conn from the union.

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