+ Media outlets are overflowing with stories about the Detroit teachers’ strike, but few have touched on the internal power struggle within the Detroit Federation of Teachers that led to the strike and will be ultimately responsible for the result of tomorrow’s vote to end it.
DFT President John Elliott has run the union for more than 18 years, but there are two significant opposition factions: the Fighting for Education Excellence group, led by Chris Zavisa, and the more militant Membership Action Caucus, led by Steve Conn, who has failed four times to win the union presidency. Last week’s strike vote was introduced (some say orchestrated) by MAC, to the utter surprise of Elliott. He was then faced with the dilemma of negotiating a deal without knowing what would be acceptable to his own members. The district’s CEO, David Adamany, complained that Elliott returned to the negotiating table completely unprepared. Zavisa offered his help, but the settlement was evidently reached without it.
The settlement reportedly leaves the contentious issue of merit pay out of the contract, referring the matter to the state’s Employment Relations Commission. The district’s demand for a longer school day was dropped, some class sizes will be reduced, and all teachers will receive a two percent raise, with teachers at the top of the scale receiving larger increases. The rank-and-file has been supportive of the strike, but whether they will again defy Elliott and vote to continue the walkout depends on which faction is better organized at tomorrow’s vote at Cobo Center. The members will vote in person on whether to end the strike, after which mail-in ballots will be issued to vote on the contract.
During the week-long strike, Elliott has been simultaneously conducting negotiations with the district while organizing a campaign to regain member support. The mail-in ballot, unusual in an AFT local, is seen as an effort by Elliott to defuse some of the opposition. He has also run a radio ad and had his own troops out among the strikers in order to counter MAC’s influence.
Both opposition groups are unhappy with the settlement. MAC is hoping to expand demands, broaden the strike and to open strike schools. But the smart money says that Elliott, caught off-guard last week, will have his supporters ready to out-shout his opposition tomorrow. That, coupled with the concessions on merit pay and class size, should be enough to prompt a majority vote back to work.
HOWEVER, if there are any incidents at Cobo Center tomorrow (violence, disputed vote, or similar outbursts) there is a high possibility of a wildcat strike in the areas of the city where the opposition is strongest. No one dares predict what would come of that.
+ EIA exclusive — The staff union of Vermont NEA is on strike. Details are sparse, but the phones have been switched to voice mail, indicating both the support and professional staff are out. The union has six UniServ directors and four secretaries, plus several other professionals. The union has 9,400 members.
+ Due to budget constraints, Citrus High School in Florida had to cut a drama teacher position. Fortunately, Judy Poplawski, executive director of a local community theater, volunteered to teach the students for free. Students were happy. Parents were happy. The Citrus County Education Association was unhappy. The union raised all sorts of “concerns.” Would the students get credit? (Yes.) Would Poplawski be covered by the district’s liability insurance? (Yes.) What about conflict of interest? Poplawski could solicit the students to take theater workshops for a fee. (The workshops are full and have a long waiting list.) The union’s bald efforts to keep Poplawski out led to a front page editorial in the St. Petersburg Times… by the arts and entertainment reporter. “The union’s concerns do not seem to me to be those of well-meaning people working for the benefit of students and parents. They seem more like maneuvering in the never-ending game of education politics,” wrote Jorge Sanchez. “It’s time to fetch the hook and yank this thinly plotted sham from the stage.”
+ The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers proposed to augment the district’s teacher recruiting efforts for a fee of about $100,000. Isn’t that conflict of interest? Not to mention contracting out?
+ Educators and education observers in San Francisco are having a good laugh at the expense of the Dallas school district. Superintendent Bill Rojas left the district under a cloud of financial mismanagement to take the lucrative position in Dallas. Now Dallas residents are looking askance at Rojas’ hiring of six new administrators (at salaries of up to $175,000 annually), plus former San Francisco television reporter Tomas Roman (at $125,000) to oversee “special projects.”
+ More commentators are examining the role of parents in the success and failure of public schools. EIA highly recommends an editorial in the September issue of Commentary by Chester E. Finn Jr., entitled “Can Parents Be Trusted?” Here is a small excerpt: “Whatever form it takes, today’s pattern of parental abdication helps explain why the mission of our schools has expanded so radically in recent years. With more and more children arriving in the classroom in obvious need of a moral compass, teachers, counselors, and administrators have willy-nilly taken on more and more nonacademic duties, reaching into every corner of their students’ lives.”
But school employees are not the only ones taking on parental responsibility, there is evidence that television also picks it up — particularly among minorities. Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle gives us the anecdotal evidence of an Oakland middle school where the average household had more than three televisions. U.S. News and World Report cites an alarming statistic. “African-Americans watch a third more television than whites,” said Sam Chisholm, chairman of a black-owned ad agency.
In an age where proposed education reforms are costly, contentious and burdened with the baggage of politics, here’s one that’s cheap, agreeable and sensible: Turn off the TV.
+ Quote of the Week: “Pickets at two elementary schools were robbed at gunpoint this morning. One striker claims she lost $4,000 in jewelry.” — Rich Gibson, Program Coordinator of Social Studies at Wayne State University, reporting on the ground during the Detroit teachers’ strike.