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Lawsuit Limits Power of Detroit schools chief Bobb... Or does it?

On December 6th , 2011, a Detroit Circuit Court Judge declared that Detroit's public schools "Emergency Financial Manager" Robert Bobb, had usurped the powers of the Detroit school board by making academic decisions for the school district.

Detroit public schools "Emergency Financial Manager" Robert Bobb (above) lost a lawsuit after he usurped the academic powers of the Detroit school board, according to a December 6 court decision.According to the court decision, Bobb “chose to ignore the board’s academic plan completely” and “failed to perform his duty to consult” with the 11-member body. Bobb’s decision to make all academic, educational and social policy for the districts more than 70,000 students “runs afoul” of the legislative intent of the emergency financial manager law under which Bobb was appointed by the governor in 2009, according to Wayne Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter.

“Mr. Bobb cannot usurp the elected board’s authority over academics and curriculum matters by creating his own academic system and programs under the guise of facilities or that his contract with the governor required him to march forward in this way,” the judge wrote in her 34-page opinion.

But the decision hardly solves the problems facing public education in Detroit, or those facing the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT).

Since his appointment as emergency financial manager for Detroit's public schools in 2009, Bobb has been widely viewed as the Broad Foundation’s puppet. He was appoiinted the overlord of the Detroit Public schools’ finances by Michigan’s governor at that time, but the December 2010 court decision holds that Bobb had overstepped his bounds and illegally interfered in the academic life of the schools. The suit was filed by the school board. Bob’s spokesman said he would appeal the ruling.

This case will invariably play a role in the important upcoming runoff election inside the Detroit Federation of Teachers between incumbent Keith Johnson, chief negotiator of what may be the worst school worker contract in history, and radical Cass Tech teacher and By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) leader, Steve Conn. Days ago, Conn got 30 percent and Johnson 38 percent in a four-way race for the union’s presidency. The rules governing the union election require that a candidate get a majority of the votes.

But things are not necessarily what they appear to be in the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that describes much of civic life in Detroit — where the schools lost at least ½ of the student population in the last decade, the union more than 1/3 of its members.

The board’s president, Anthony Adams, immediately declared a “victory,” but added that he would be most willing to work with Bobb on all the concerns of the district, including a massive volunteer literacy effort Bobb helped to initiate.

DFT leaders did not return Substance calls for comment.

As background, membership in the DFT collapsed in the last decade, down more than one-third to a total of near 7,200. Nevertheless, DFT reported income at $6,105,573 in 2009; the leadership bought itself a nice new building as members vanished. With more than 4,200 members voting in the recent election, the DFT eclipsed most unions’ participation rates by nearly 20 percent, a surprising level of voter involvement that may reflect the contentious results of the sellout contract.

On the academic side, Detroit in 2009 finished last in the nation on a series of dubious achievement tests that, predictably, demonstrated that near-total social and economic collapse, massive unemployment, and decades of the organized decay of the schools by corrupt and incompetent leaders, set kids up to not test well.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan took the occasion, not to denounce racism and its birth-mother, capitalism, but to state that he had DPS in his sights, a target for his kind of reform driven by greed and hubris.

What will this court decision do in regard to daily life in ruined DPS? Nearly nothing, according to most observers. Rather, it may make people want to dodge reality and seek more surcease in the law or the ballot box, dead, dead, ends.

People looking for a legal solution to Detroit's school crisis, or anywhere else should think twice, then recognize that only a mass, class conscious, social movement for equality and freedom relying on direct action as its primary tact can answer what is up — direct action that can sustain victories, not be easily overturned by a lower court, preserving whatever is won, pushing for more.

The DFT contract already demolished nearly everything that was left of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, even that was not much. Once a union of members who wildcatted against concessions less than a decade ago, the rank and file ratified the new contract by a solid majority. Substance reported on that contract, which remains untouched.

The election won't upend the contract. Substance reported on that election: http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=1063§ion=Article

The school board, victors in the lawsuit, are the people who elected the last president of the board. He was charged and convicted of repeatedly masturbating in front of the female superintendent. He had replaced Connie Calloway, also selected by the board, who, after 18 months, was fired. She charged the board, probably rightly, with systematic corruption. She had replaced an earlier superintendent who now faces charges. One board member, repeatedly re-elected, has had his six kids removed from his care by CPS.

Corruption, ignorance, incompetence, dishonesty, and opportunism describe the board for the last decade. Nobody can believe any statistics DPS produces, especially the money-generating student count—and far too many people are involved in those lies which drift into the rank and file of all DPS unions.

This background (wiped clean by, most likely, Bobb’s minions on a wiki site that was once quite comprehensive) is what gave Bobb considerable popularity when he arrived in Detroit. The schools were in full crack-up. They still are. But now the schools and workers are divided in yet a new way, people in relatively privileged “priority” schools, and the left-behind neighborhood schools, still grossly overcrowded, underfunded.

Handing things over to the board is no solution. It's a problem with "local control" which was always a myth, a middle class standpoint that ignores, for example, the results of local control in the South–or Detroit for that matter, brutally segregated by locals on the other side of 8 Mile.

So called "public education" has always been not-public but segregated and not educational, a perpetually collective effort from birth that everyone needs, but a fetish of education, seeking loyal, obedient people with varying degrees of cleverness, depending largely on birth origins.

Detroit has been run by Democrats for 40 years, something liberals who want to vote their way out of repression should note. How has that worked out?

DPS district is officially more than $400 million in debt, probably more. That is a real, not fictional debt. The liberals' creation, the demagogue Obama, who handed off $12 trillion plus to the banks, and billions to auto (sometimes foreign auto, which should eradicate "buy American" forever) isn't going to print money for Detroit, unless there is a rebellion a la 1967 — and if there was the first response would be, in my guess, horrific repression, worse than before by far. The Detroit Federation of Teachers incumbent president, Keith Johnson, may, dishonestly, claim credit for the lawsuit which was, in fact, spurred by action initiated by his opponent, Steve Conn, and his lawyer, whose name is (no kidding) George Washington.

Conn and Washington made an agreement to win DFT supporting this lawsuit, the pair joining the collection of incompetents who hold considerable responsibility for the conditions in DPS. But BAMN sometimes takes odd turns, forgetting one day the old labor saw that “the working class and employing class have only contradiction in common,” then on the next day calling for militant demonstrations on behalf of a union that Conn, for the moment, does not run.

Here is an example of the continuing divide between Johnson and Conn, taken from the DFT web site shortly before the earlier DFT election (emphasis theirs): “Attention DFT Members [11.21.10] Steve Conn has sent out information stating that the DFT is picketing the office of State Rep. Fred Durhal’s office. Mr. Conn also is misleading our membership by stating that a vote to take such an action was passed at the Nov. 18 membership meeting. THIS IS NOT TRUE. THE DFT HAS NO PLANS AT THIS TIME TO PICKET THE OFFICE OF REP. DURHAL. While we vehemently disapprove of Mr. Durhal’s sponsorship of a bill that is not in the best interest of teachers in Michigan, we will coordinate any such action with our sister AFT Michigan locals and our state federation. STEVE CONN DOES NOT SPEAK FOR THE DFT AND HIS NOTICE OF A PROTEST IS TO BE IGNORED BY DFT MEMBERS. Members who choose to participate are representing themselves and shall not be considered as acting on the behalf or representing the position of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. If such an action is taken, you will be notified by the leadership of the DFT. Thank you for your cooperation. Keith R. Johnson, DFT President”

BAMN already touts the lawsuit result, as does the school board, and the DFT–strange bedfellows indeed.

But lawsuits, votes, all this trust in the confines of legalism, empowers what is now a full-blown corporate state, promising direct service to the rich, more racism, nationalism, and perpetual war. Part of that state is the capitalist school system which need not be saved. Rather, “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!” Strike the schools. Shut them down. Open freedom schools where people can learn why, in fact, things are as they are.

The sky is, of course, falling. We are lambs among wolves. The core issue of our time is the relationship of rising color-coded social and economic inequality challenged by the potential of mass class-conscious resistance. This can now be summed up as life and death matter, especially in cities that are about 90 percent black, where black youth are schooled for jail, the new form of American apartheid.

The path to community from barbarism has to involve connecting the parts of these many crises, the many attacks on schools, kids, and ideas, to the whole, the system of capital, recognizing that any reform we win can be stolen back by the executive committee and armed weapon of the rich, the government.

That project must be prepared to break the laws, all designed to protect property rights, in the schools, in the military, and on the job sites, to create sufficient civil strife that either pushes back against what rises as a mass, popular, multi-tentacled fascist movement whose tentacles, taken alone, make no sense, but taken as a whole, and manipulated, serve to preserve capitalism and the government it is running.

There have been hints of that movement, especially in the student March 4 actions, and the actions–demonstrations, sit-ins, occupations, walkouts, freedom schools — that took place in the months before that.

However, the student movement has lurched right, recently, abandoned even the use of the terms "capitalism," "imperialism", "war", thus taking up only the most narrow, opportunist, and inherently reactionary demands like "Save Public Education."

Liberals themselves proved the rot of not-public schooling over the last decade. Why "save" that?

Sure, file lawsuits. But don't expect much to come from them. Instead, fight. 

Rgibson@pipeline.com



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