Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Union-Busting Corporate Giveaways in Michigan

Image from Flickr by Christopher Dombres
Michigan’s infamous Financial Martial Law is now well known to those paying attention to this sort of thing. Numerous towns, cities and jurisdictions—including Detroit Public Schools (DPS)—have already been declared financial catastrophes and had “emergency financial managers” (generally business executives) imposed on them. These managers have the authority to override or fire elected officials, lay off unionized workers, cut services, and give away public institutions (like public schools) to private, for-profit operators.

According to Detroit News.com, 800 DPS teachers will not be hired back next year, while their counterparts in the suburbs of Muskegon Heights and Highland Park will not know if they have jobs until their financial managers can find private charter companies to run them. Once these public institutions have been given away to private corporations, it will be up to the charter operators to determine which teachers get rehired, with few (if any) being allowed to retain union representation.

Muskegon Heights recently signed a contract with Mosaica, a private, for-profit charter chain, giving them control over every school in the district. The details of the deal have not been disclosed, including the amount of taxpayer dollars the district will be handing over to the company.

These corporate giveaways are intended to save the districts from financial calamity.  (Muskegon Heights has a roughly $12 million deficit, while Highland Park Schools' deficit soared is over $11 million). However, the only way this is possible (and the only way their private operators can turn a profit) is by lowering labor costs by shredding union contracts, increasing class sizes, decreasing services, and gutting pay and benefits.

Privatization of public schools in Detroit has been an ongoing problem under former financial manager Robert Bobb (see here and here). Current manager Roy Roberts has slashed teachers’ wages by 10% (in violation of their contract, but apparently perfectly legal under Michigan’s Financial Martial Law), reduced maternity leave to only 12 weeks.

Like much of the Ed Deform movement, Michigan’s unique approach depends on the fabrication of a crisis through years of tax breaks for the wealthy supported through the slashing of education and other social services. The school districts themselves are then blamed for their fiscal woes and businessmen are called in to clean up the mess, as if the public should believe that only businessmen are capable (and trustworthy) enough to solve the schools’ problems. And like the rest of the business world, these businessmen are indeed in it only to make a profit, at whatever cost to the public good. Sadly, despite the nearly daily examples of corporate greed and criminality (and the dearth of evidence that districts run by businessmen perform any better than those run by educators), the public continues to accept the notion that business leaders make good school administrators.

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