Time for a Democracy of Our Own Making
Obama Supports Plan to Fire Detroit Teachers
On June 21, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder and the Detroit Public Schools “Emergency Manager” Roy Roberts, held a press conference to announce plans to develop the state “school district” authorized by Public Acts 4 and 8. The statewide system is being called the “Education Achievement System,” or EAS. It will be utilized first for the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) branded as “lowest achieving,” about 100 schools. It will then incorporate all of the schools that are branded the “lowest performing 5 percent” of schools statewide.
Detroit “emergency manager” Roberts will head up the new state school district. He is a former GM executive who took over Detoirt's schools from Robert Bobb, the previous "emergency manager." Roberts is also currently a managing director and co-founding member of the private equity investment firm Reliant Equity Investors. He does not have a background in education. Detroit has lost about 100,000 students since 1997, when enrollment stood at 175,168. It has about 74,000 students and more than 5,400 teachers.
The Detroit "model," is known for plans to close half the schhols, turn 45 over to mainly for-profit charters, and fire all Detroit teachers and force them to reapply for their jobs. The ability of the "manager" to fire Detroit teachers and now those statewide was greatly broadened under Michigan’s Public Act 4 and 8 (see article below). The new EAS is one form implementation of the law is taking.
The EAS specifically allows for the principal of each school, which are under Roberts’ authority, to hire teachers for the given school — meaning all teachers in that school would be fired. They could reapply for their jobs but are forced to accept conditions of work decided by Roberts. For example, under Roberts’ authority, each school can decide its curriculum, length of the school day and year.
Individual Parent Advisory Councils are to be created for each school, not the system as a whole. There are no provisions for parents or teachers to have a decision-making role. There are no provisions for regular public meetings, for Detroit schools as a whole or for the newly created state district. Parents are now to only be concerned with the individual school their child goes to and to submit to the authority of the “manager” and -principals he handpicks. It is possible that parents will be required to sign a “contract” requiring their participation as dictated by the “manager,” but without any decision-making role.
The Louisiana Recovery School District in New Orleans is given as an example of “success” for such a state controlled district. It is known for its private, for-profit charter schools and for eliminating a single school district and replacing it with individual “autonomous” schools with no accountability to the public. The situation is such that parents do not know where to register children for school nor which schools their children are eligible to attend.
Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education participated in Snyder’s press conference announcing the new state-controlled and mandated district. He said, “Detroit has the potential to be a model not just for the state, but for the entire country.” In response to questions about plans by Roberts to fire all the existing teachers, beginning with the EAS schools, a Department of Education spokesperson said that they support “all of the teachers being fired and principals being fired,” adding it is “among the options that the department endorses.” Indeed, the federal “models” for schools branded as “persistently low achieving” schools includes closing them and transforming them by firing teachers and eliminating conditions of work and contracts that protect them. It can be said that Detroit is following the model provided by the federal government, a model that has all the language of “educational achievement” and all the content of a broad anti-social offensive targeting teachers and students.
Michigan Law Serving Elimination of Public School System
Michigan’s Public Act No.4 gives broad powers to an appointed “manager” to decide the educational and academic program for school districts. This includes ability to fire all the teachers, as is planned for Detroit, closing schools, reducing class schedules and more. He also controls all funds from the federal and state governments, which would include, for example, Title IV funding for impoverished students. It is not clear if the “manager” is required to use such funds as designated.
The law does not require that the “manager” of the school district have any educational qualifications or background. All of the powers given to the appointed “manager” relating to the takeover of city and county governance (see VOR update June 21) also apply when a school district is taken over. Section 20 of the law underlines these powers, stating that a “manager” for a school district can:
“(a) Negotiate, renegotiate, approve, and enter into contracts on behalf of the school district.
“(b) Receive and disburse on behalf of the school district all federal, state, and local funds earmarked for the school district. These funds may include, but are not limited to, funds for specific programs and the retirement of debt.
“(c) Seek approval from the superintendent of public instruction for a reduced class schedule in accordance with administrative rules governing the distribution of state school aid.
“(d) Sell, assign, transfer, or otherwise use the assets of the school district to meet past or current obligations or assure the fiscal accountability of the school district, provided the use, assignment, or transfer of assets for this purpose does not impair the education of the pupils of the school district. The power under this subdivision includes the closing of schools or other school buildings in the school district.
“(e) Approve or disapprove of the issuance of obligations of the school district.
“(f) Exercise solely, for and on behalf of the school district, all other authority and responsibilities affecting the school district that are prescribed by law to the school board and superintendent of the school district.
“(g) Employ or contract for, at the expense of the school district, school administrators considered necessary to implement this act.”
It is notable that the law does not provide for regular public meetings, as is commonly the case with an elected school board. Thus not only are elected bodies being eliminated by the “managers,” but even the space to voice an opinion is eliminated. The basic concept that parents, students and teachers have at least a say in the governance of their schools is being eliminated in favor of so-called “financial” experts running schools. And these “managers” are not accountable to the public, only to the Governor.
Public Act 8 for K-12 Education
In addition to Public Act 4, the Michigan legislature passed several accompanying laws (Public Acts 5-9) which togerh are often refered to as the "Emergency Manager Law." Public Act 8 concerns the K-12 public school system. Act 8 submits to the federal government’s dictate concerning public schools, as elaborated under “Race to the Top.” The federal government is using “Race to the Top” as a means to intervene in local control of schools, forcing school districts to submit to arbitrary testing and branding of schools or lose federal funding. As part of this federal testing and branding regime, schools can be branded as “persistently low achieving,” (PLA). If such schools fail to improve within a specified period, then they are required to submit to a federal “model,” for “improvement.” These models are “the turnaround model, restart model, school closure and transformation model.”
Much like the language for the “financial manager,” the language here is that of the monopolies, for takeovers, downsizing and restructuring of corporations with the aim of concentrating wealth in fewer hands and securing more profits for these fewer hands. For the school system, it means elimination of the public and of public school systems. Instead, there are individual schools run often by for-profit companies, whose main aim is to seize control of public funds for the benefit of the monopolies. This is also why the laws include language that “does not allow any termination or diminishment of obligations to pay debt service.”
The various “redesign” models also include elimination of unions, collective bargaining and other rights of the teachers and students that greatly harm the quality of education. Existing experience also shows that there is not improvement in education, but rather broad attacks on students, teachers and parents, including elimination of the public schools as a system of schools and replacing them with individual schools, each with different standards and requirements for attending, teaching, etc. In New Orleans, for example, which largely has such schools, the situation is so chaotic and individualized that parents do not even know where to go to register their children for school.
For Michigan, Public Act 8 requires that the state superintendent of public instruction provide a list of the “lowest achieving 5 percent of all public schools” in the state, using federal guidelines for branding PLA’s. All of these schools will be taken over by the state and placed under state supervision. The Act establishes what is called a “state school reform/redesign officer.” The officer is chosen by the state superintendent “solely on the basis of his or her competence and experience in educational reform and redesign.” Although unstated, such qualifications, much like those of corporate raiders, are not educational but rather the “competence and experience” to raid and/or close public schools and secure public funds for private for-profit charter companies, or for placing schools under the control of corporate -“partnerships.” Whole companies, known as “Education Management Organizations,” or “EMO’s” have come into being to secure public education funds, and corporate-designed training paid for by public school funds, for the biggest monopolies. The current state treasurer, Andy Dillon, a Democrat who helped create and back the law, was formally a corporate takeover expert.
The Act also calls for a state school district to be established that incorporates the schools designated as “lowest achieving.” A process for a given school board to devise a plan for “reform” exists to prevent state takeover, but the “redesign officer” can reject the plan, or say insufficient progress is being made, and place the school in the state district.
The state “redesign officer” is superintendent of the state district and “may exercise all the powers and duties otherwise vested by law in the school board that previously operated” the designated school(s), except those related to taxation or borrowing. However, the person does have “authority over the expenditures of all funds attributable to pupils at that school, including that portion of proceeds from bonded indebtedness and other funds dedicated to capital projects that would otherwise be apportioned to that school by the school board.” This is a mechanism to secure additional public funds that normally can only be spent as designated, such as for building improvement.
In addition, the “redesign officer” has “power to terminate any contract or portion of a contract that applies to that school. However this subsection does not allow any termination or diminishment of obligations to pay debt service on legally authorized bonds and does not allow a collective bargaining agreement to be affected except as provided” by the act. Thus once again, debt payments are guaranteed while no such language about “termination or diminishment” of the quality of education and quality of working and learning conditions is stated in the Act.
The “exceptions” in terms of collective bargaining agreements include:
“(8) An addendum to a collective bargaining agreement under this section shall provide for any of the following that are necessary for the applicable school intervention model to be implemented at each affected public school:
“(a) That any contractual or other seniority system that would otherwise be applicable shall not apply at the public school. This subdivision does not allow unilateral changes in pay scales or benefits.
“(b) That any contractual or other work rules that are impediments to implementing the redesign plan shall not apply at the public school. This subdivision does not allow unilateral changes in pay scales or benefits.
“(c) That the state school reform/redesign officer shall direct the expenditure of all funds attributable to pupils at the public school and the principal or other school leader designated by the state school reform/redesign officer shall have full autonomy and control over curriculum and discretionary spending at the public school.”
Thus seniority, work rules, such as those applying to classroom size, planning time, are eliminated. A say by teachers and parents in curriculum and what and how content is taught is also eliminated. Control over curriculum and how funds are spent is decided solely by the “redesign officer.” Broad authority is given, while no accountability to the public is provided. Essentially, contracts are limited to pay and benefits and, given the content of Public Act 4, these will likely be rendered meaningless as well.
The “redesign officer” can also appoint a “chief executive officer to take control of multiple public schools.” These CEO’s are to impose one of the four federal models and can impose “an addendum to each applicable collective bargaining agreement in effect for those public schools as necessary to implement the school intervention model.”
It can be seen that both the “emergency financial manager” and the “reform/redesign officer,” are means to eliminate the public school system in a given district and replace it with a scattering of individual schools where conditions of work and learning are widely different and the quality no doubt worse, given the attacks on the rights of students and teachers directly incorporated into the laws. Broad power and authority is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals with no accountability to the public, not even the requirement of regular public meetings. Education and cities and towns are to be “managed” as businesses, and like all businesses, in service to the most powerful financiers. Repeatedly the laws provide guarantees for debt service payments and handing public funds over to the monopolies, while directly undermining the right to education and the right of students, teachers and parents to make decisions concerning education.
There is no doubt that the public school system needs renewal and reform in the interests of the people. These laws however, do not solve the social problems students, teachers and parents are contending with and in fact make them far worse. It is “redesign” in the interests of the monopolies and their drive to secure more and more of the public treasury.
What is needed is redesign that serves the public good and public right to a society where government guarantee the rights of all, including the right to education — and all the working, learning and living conditions required for this.
Fascism is not all about jack-boots and guys with mustaches. It is a system of economic and social control. The particularities of fascism in any given nation grow out of the special dynamics of that country. Fascism in the United States will be blow-dried. And its legal and bureaucratic form will take shape in places like Michigan, where an innocuous sounding piece of legislation called the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act is the prototype for a host of laws designed to make government – the state – a compliant tool for the dictatorial rule of the most predatory sections of the ruling class. In 2011 America, that’s Wall Street, finance capital.
Michigan’s law allows the state to appoint emergency managers to nullify contracts, including labor agreements – which is what has unions upset. But the scope and intention of the law is much deeper and wider than simply anti-union. The legislation allows emergency managers to nullify the powers and authority of local governments of all kinds. One of its supporters gave the game away when he spoke of the need to impose a kind of “financial martial law” in which all pretense of democracy would be abolished in targeted communities. The community the Republican politician had in mind was Detroit, the Black metropolis, where the public schools were promptly put under emergency state control. But there is nothing to stop the state from abolishing democratic governance in any of Michigan’s cities, if an emergency can be declared or created. On April 15, the mostly Black city of Benton Harbor, the poorest jurisdiction in the state, was placed under total financial martial law, its citizens suddenly made more powerless than Blacks in Selma, Alabama, prior to the civil rights movement.
Fascism always requires an “emergency,” a “crisis,” to justify the surrender of whatever citizen liberties previously existed. Its mass organizing principle revolves the “Other” – the -scapegoating of a hated group that can be blamed for the emergency. Historically, in the United States, that “Other” has been Black people – although other “Others” have been added to the list. The U.S. has always been fertile ground for fascist politicking – in fact, I have long maintained that White Terror under southern Jim Crow was a peculiar form of American fascism.
Fascism is also associated with militarism and the national security state, which are certainly familiar aspects of modern Americana. More importantly, the militarization of the inner cities has been an established fact since the mid-1960s. The proof is in the one million African Americans behind bars.
The “crisis” that justifies the outright abolition of democracy – beginning, of course, in Black America – is the crisis afflicting finance capitalism. Wall Street then imposes instant emergencies on the larger society by starving cities and schools and the public sector in general, in order to strip down, privatize and commodify every asset in sight. Michigan’s fascist model will doubtless be duplicated across the nation, as Wall Street moves to rule directly, through its emergency managers, by one name or another. The permanent emergency has begun.
The Michigan emergency financial management law is “a violation of the constitution,” say residents. While the country watched the protests in Wisconsin spill into the State Capitol Building, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was passing a controversial bill that many consider a direct attack on the constitutional rights of the citizens of Michigan.
Public Acts 4-9, also called the Emergency Financial Management bill, gives already existing “Emergency Financial Managers” (EFMs) sweeping new powers, allowing them to literally suspend the entire elected bodies of municipalities they deem to be failing, and suspend collective bargaining agreements with unions for up to five years.
Immediately after the bill passed, an EFM took complete control over the city of Benton Harbor as well as Detroit’s public school system. EFMs are also in power in Pontiac and Ecorse.
As many as 400 accountants, lawyers, school employees and city workers are taking classes as part of the new law, studying corporate-sector strategies for municipal application. One class, “Dealing with the Unionized Workforce,” alludes to union-busting techniques.
Having studied, these teams are ready to attack the local governments of Michigan. “A SWAT team is an OK way to look at this,” Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone told Bloomberg.
Many Michigan residents, especially those experiencing poverty or hanging on to medium-income jobs, are outraged. Protests, lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and local municipalities and calls for Governor Snyder to be recalled and the bill repealed have unfolded with the bill’s passing.
“It’s a dictatorship,” Marian Kramer of the National Welfare Rights Union in Detroit says. “They are restructuring the government to protect the interests of corporations, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about us.”
“They have violated the constitution for the residents of Benton Harbor,” says Reverend Pinkney of Benton Harbor. “This is a constitutional issue.”
He and hundreds of others have been organizing and participating in demonstrations, lawsuits and other forms of protest against the bill.
Benton Harbor residents say that Whirlpool, the world’s leading manufacturer of major home appliances, and which once employed many in Benton Harbor in manufacturing jobs, might have a role in the EFM law as well. State Representative Al Pscholka, who introduced the bill, formerly sat on the board of a Whirlpool-funded nonprofit in Benton Harbor, which is now behind a controversial development on the town’s beach. And his former boss Representative Fred Upton is a Whirlpool heir who owns property near the development.
Sucked Down the Whirlpool
Benton Harbor has long dealt with abject poverty, job loss from outsourcing and low-level corruption…But many residents say that appointing an EFM with no legal accountability whatsoever will only makes such problems worse.
“You as a citizen have no rights,” Marian Kramer says. “The EFM only responds to the governor and his committee, not to the people.”
Benton Harbor residents point out the state government’s two-faced approach to their community. They see Whirlpool as the real criminal, overshadowing anything a [corrupt] city commissioner could do in a lifetime.
Whirlpool, which has its global headquarters in Benton Harbor, has long controlled the city. In 1986, at the behest of business leaders, Benton Harbor was designated as an “Enterprise Zone” to give tax exemptions to the private sector. Whirlpool quickly ate up the exemptions.
At the same time, the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor area was losing over 5,000 jobs. Whirlpool continued layoffs into the ’90s. By 1996 they had also laid off half of the workers at their Evansville, Indiana, plant. Today, less than one-third of Whirlpool’s workforce is inside the country.
In 2003, as anti-police brutality battles broke out in Benton Harbor, Whirlpool was complaining that further tax incentives in a proposed federal energy bill were not enough to keep them from moving more jobs overseas. Apparently, the $17.40-an-hour jobs at Evansville were too pricey.
“A tax credit that creates a benefit for our refrigeration business is certainly welcome, but isn’t sufficient to eliminate the need for us to consider the possibility that we move some production to Mexico,” Tom Catania, Whirlpool’s vice president of government relations, threatened at the time.
The threats worked and more favorable legislation passed in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Thanks in part to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it poured into lobbying, Whirlpool has since received over $500 million dollars in tax breaks.
After the new tax incentives started, Whirlpool announced it would soon be moving its Evansville and Fort Smith, Indiana, plants to Mexico, laying off another 1,200 workers and leaving up to 1,500 more out of jobs through the overall “ripple effect.”
This year, the job-exporting mega-manufacturer will receive multiple government handouts once again, including over $300 million in energy tax credits from the federal government – which will account for one-third of its annual profit – a $19.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, $19 million in tax incentives from the Michigan Economic Growth Authority and almost $1 million from the State of Ohio. The company has also received over $500 million in tax credits in the last six years from the Brazilian government.
And, like General Electric, Whirlpool’s effective tax rate for 2010 will be zero percent.
Subsidized by these tax incentives and government handouts, Whirlpool announced in May a three-percent rise in first-quarter profits, up from $164 million to $169 million. Whirlpool’s sales last year topped $17 billion. […]
Residents See Whirlpool Role in EFM Law
To keep a clean public image, Whirlpool funds and largely controls a nonprofit in Benton Harbor called the Cornerstone Alliance, which has a revolving door with Whirlpool and the Whirlpool Foundation for its staff members and employees.
Cornerstone has long served the interests of Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, creating a façade through which the company can pass off its actions as being in the interests of “the community.”
“They’re an arm of Whirlpool,” says Carol Drake of Friends of Jean Klock Park. Carol has been fighting for the preservation of the historic park against a consortium of developers led by Whirlpool. Her organization has tracked the evolution of developers’ plans to seize the public park, which she says have been in the works for decades.
Their current project is called Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf resort to include luxury homes, a water park, high-end condominiums and other similar upscale amenities.
Both Whirlpool and Cornerstone are partners in this development, which will span Benton Harbor’s public beach. Jean Klock Park was deeded to the people of Benton Harbor almost 100 years ago, but the central area of it was turned over to developers in 2008.
While the city government of Benton Harbor was complicit in this deal, newly elected commissioners have officially withdrawn the city’s support. “I don’t think any good government would show their support when we’ve given much more than any other entity,” Benton Harbor City Commissioner Duane L. Seats II said.
But those commissioners no longer have any power due to Joe Harris’ recent suspension of all local government activity through the Emergency Management law. This has led some to believe that the EFM bill is being used in part to ensure that the Harbor Shores project continues. Residents point out that Pscholka, who introduced the bill, was vice president of the Cornerstone Alliance’s Chamber of Commerce from 1996 to 2004. […]
The company in charge of developing Harbor Shores, Evergreen Development, was formed in 2005 in anticipation of the project. Evergreen’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffery Gilbertson is the former senior director of Financial Operations, International at General Growth Properties (GGP), one of the largest mall owners in the United States.
While Gilbertson was joining up with Evergreen in 2008, his former employer, after amassing $27 billion in debt, was filing what has been called the largest real estate bankruptcy in US history.
Meanwhile, workers at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor were announcing a major campaign against GGP, which parallels the fight in Benton Harbor in many ways. A new report released this week shines light on these issues and perhaps puts the Harbor Shores project in Benton Harbor under a new light.
“The Inner Harbor,” the report reads, “has become a glaring example of poverty zone development, with low-quality jobs and abusive wages and conditions. As in other poverty zone developments, the private developers – General Growth Properties and Cordish Companies – and their investors insisted on secure profits through access to public subsidies and advantageous leases with the vendors who run the businesses in the development.”
That might sound all too familiar to the residents of Benton Harbor. […]
The promise of low-paying jobs and temporary employment will not lift Benton Harbor’s current residents out of poverty. Residents say they have been hearing similar things for years, but little has changed. “They aren’t going to bring any jobs that are going to sustain a family,” Carol says. […]