Union isn't a word that's often associated with charter schools, but that might be changing in Michigan. The teachers, counselors and social workers of Cesar Chavez Academy, Detroit's biggest charter school system and one of Michigan's largest, chose overwhelmingly to form a union Thursday.
They voted 88-39 to certify the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff as their official bargaining agent. It's only the second time a Michigan charter school has chosen to organize under the union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers Michigan (AFT Michigan).
The four campuses of Cesar Chavez Academy serve about 2,000 students in Detroit. They are run by the Leona Group, a charter operator that handles more than 60 schools in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Cesar Chavez is the first of Leona's schools systems nationwide to opt for a union, according to the Detroit Free Press. The successful election is a significant victory for Michigan's labor movement, which is still reeling from the recent passage of right-to-work legislation in the state.
"I am beyond excited. This is a moment in history and now we have a voice. We're ready to make positive changes," Flordemaria Garay, a social worker who works with the Cesar Chavez Academy Middle School told The Huffington Post.
Lynne Santoscoy, another social worker, said she was happy that employees would be able to negotiate their own contracts. She also hopes the union can help institute policy changes like establishing sex-education classes and publishing a crisis intervention manual for the school.
Tashaune Harden, an eighth-grade science teacher, told The Huffington Post she was "relieved but anxious" about the vote. Like many of the other staff members, she would like to see changes in school procedures. She'd like to have a Spanish translator present at school board meetings, since the schools are located in an area of Detroit with many Spanish-speaking families. Noting the participation of parents in the union drive, she also hopes the establishment of a teacher's union will encourage more families to get involved with the school process.
"[The election] was encouraging. It makes me feel the majority of the members of the district want to be involved in decisions that affect them on a daily basis," she said, "[but] I don't think the work is over."
Mike Atkins, general counsel for the Leona Group, told the Detroit Free Press, he had heard of communication problems in Cesar Chavez's middle school and upper elementary schools, but said there had been a change of leadership at those facilities. The new people in those positions had "been well-received by the staff," he said.
"We want everybody to to take ownership in the school and the whole reason that school works is through innovation and the thoughts and the suggestions that come from staff people," he said to The Huffington Post in a prior interview.
Although, Atkins told the Free Press, Leona wasn't typically an advocate for unions, he said the operator would "recognize the employees' rights to organize."
Nate Walker, an organizer for AFT Michigan, said teachers and other school employees had failed at an earlier attempt to unionize -- so they contacted his union last year to raise their chances of succeeding this time. Walker believes the unionization of charter school teachers and staff could have important implications for the broader policy debate over education reform.
"They're talked about, but they're not talked with," he said. "They've chosen to be part of the education reform discussion and that means they'll be able to contribute without fear for their own job security."
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Roy Roberts, DPS Emergency Manager (2011-Present)
Roy Roberts, a former General Motors executive, was appointed as the current emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools (DPS) in May 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder. Under Robert's watch, student attendance has increased dramatically, <a href="Low attendance during the 2010-2011 school year cost DPS about $4 million in state funds.">hitting 90 percent in the early part of the 2012-2013 fall term</a>. Low attendance during the 2010-2011 school year<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/dps-faces-4-million-penal_n_1590365.html"> cost DPS about $4 million in state funds</a>. In addition to this, Roberts has implemented a "zero base" budgeting system for DPS that requires every expense to be justified. He's also managed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/01/detroit-schools-emergency_n_1848772.html">to lower DPS' deficit to about $75 million </a>from a high of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/roy-roberts-detroit-public-schools-emergency-manager_n_1213244.html">nearly $327 million under his predecessor Robert Bobb</a>. However, much of this deficit reduction has been achieved by taking out long-term bonds, which has left the district with $500 million in long-term debt. Due to the recent suspension of the emergency manager law Public Act 4, Robert's authority has been restricted to financial issues. This has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/detroit-school-board-public-schools-emergency-manager_n_1761877.html">led to a power struggle between him and Detroit's school board</a>, which is now in charge of academic issues for the district. The emergency manager has also drawn flak from the Detroit Federation of Teachers for a top-down approach that has included <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/02/detroit-teachers-union-ca_n_1643182.html">imposing a contract on the union</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/detroit-public-schools-layoffs-4100-teacher-jobs_n_1423757.html">laying off DPS teachers and staff during summer vacation</a> and then rehiring them at the beginning of the new school year.
Agnes Hitchcock, "Grape Lady"
Perhaps Agnes Hitchcock had just read "The Grapes of Wrath" before she went to a school board meeting in April of 2007. Hitchock, the leader of a group called the Call 'Em Out Coalition, became a minor local celebrity after she <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20423647/#.UHMyTPk-vwc">began hurtling grapes at board members during a contentious vote on school closings</a>. Although she was fined $250 for disturbing the peace and the board voted 6-5 to close 34 schools, Hitchcock said at the time that the consequences were worth it because they gave her a chance to talk about the issue in court. To see a video of the incident and an interview with Hitchcock, <a href="<iframe width="570" height="428" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/nqTeJzLCnTc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>click here.</a>
LaMar Lemmons III, Detroit School Board President
LaMar Lemmons and his colleagues have wielded limited influence of late over Detroit's educational policy, due to the presence of state-appointed managers Robert Bobb and Roy Roberts. This changed a little with the temporary suspension of Public Act 4, which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/detroit-school-board-public-schools-emergency-manager_n_1761877.html">has restricted Emergency Manager Roy Roberts powers to financial matters</a> and allowed the board to regain control over academic decision-making. Following this power shift, the board appointed John Telford interim superintendent of DPS and also voted to break DPS' ties with the state's new Educational Achievement Authority, a move a judge later overturned. As a member of the board, Lemmons has been involved with numerous power struggles with the state and its appointed managers to determine who runs Detroit's schools. The state attorney general <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/detroit-school-board-michigan-attorney-general_n_1764286.html">is now engaged in a legal battle to remove seven members from the board as a result of changes in student enrollment numbers</a>. In June of 2012 Lemmons became involved in a dispute with DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/detroit-library-commission-roy-roberts_n_1631239.html">who wanted to take his ex-oficio seat on the Detroit Library Commission</a>, claiming his emergency powers allowed him to replace the school board president. Roberts later backed off from that position. Lemmons has also been involved in school board lawsuits against former Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb for <a href="http://michiganradio.org/post/detroit-board-education-wins-lawsuit-against-robert-bobb">implementing his own academic plan prior to Public Act 4</a>. and <a href="http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/03/11/25470.htm">taking money from the the Broad Foundation</a>, a <a href="http://www.broadeducation.org/news/115.html">supporter of charter schools</a>. As a former state representative, Lemmons has also had legal troubles of his own. He <a href="http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-46849_47203-158964--,00.html">was found guilty in 2006 of failing to file two or more campaign finance statements and had to pay about $1,000 in fines to the state</a>. Lemmons <a href="http://www.mirsnews.com/leg_bio.php?lid=219">has also worked as a special assistant to former Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara and a block club organizer</a>.
Kenneth Burnley, DPS Schools CEO (2000-2005)
Dr. Kenneth Burnley was a former Detroit Schools CEO who ran Detroit Public Schools from 2000 to 2005. He was was hired by a special "reform" school board, selected by Mayor Dennis Archer as the result of Public Act 10 of 1999. That law removed the city's traditional board and replaced it with six mayoral appointees, as well as another board seat belonging to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction or a designee. A 2004 law <a href="http://www.michigan.gov/granholm/0,4587,7-168-23442_21974-98569--,00.html">restored the elected school board</a>. Under the administration of Burnley and the appointed school board, <a href="http://www.cgcs.org/cms/lib/DC00001581/Centricity/Domain/31/ImprovedScoresDetroit12-14-03.pdf">the district's state assessment reading scores increased</a>, but so did the financial burden. Detroit Public Schools <a href="http://www.michigandaily.com/content/daily-debacle-detroit">went from a $100 million fiscal surplus in 1999</a> to a <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20081209/SCHOOLS/812090371">$200 million deficit in 2004</a>. In 2011, Burnley was<a href="http://www.tv20detroit.com/news/local/79106577.html"> questioned in a DPS investigation questioning whether real estate fraud had been committed during his administration</a>. In a statement on his website, Burnley <a href="http://kennethburnley.com/detroit-public-schools-testimony-opening-statement">claimed his real estate transactions had saved Detroit taxpayers millions</a>. After leaving DPS, Burnley worked as the director of the Education Leadership Center at the University of Michigan and the superintendent of schools at the Mat Su Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska. Burnley died in 2011. DPS now <a href="http://detroitk12.org/content/2012/07/11/detroit-students-selected-to-receive-dr-kenneth-burnley-memorial-scholarships/">offers memorial scholarships to students in his name</a>.
Several foundations play a role in determining Detroit's educational landscape. The <strong><a href="http://www.skillman.org/">Skillman Foundation</a></strong> is a charitable private grant-making foundation established in 1960. Although it awards grants all over Metro Detroit, Skillman often focuses on the city itself -- particularly the neighborhoods of Brightmoor, Cody Rouge, Osborn, Chadsey Condon, North End Woodward Central and Southwest Detroit. Skillman operates <a href="http://www.skillman.org/Good-Schools/Current-Strategies">a four-part "Good Schools" plan</a> that includes creating a city-wide schools infrastructure,early childhood education, improving schools in target neighborhoods, and encouraging parent and public support for high-quality education. The foundations efforts are guided by <a href="http://www.skillman.org/About-Us">a set of 2016 goals</a> that was created through a community planning process. The <strong><a href="http://www.kresge.org/programs/detroit/education-reform">Kresge Foundation</a></strong> is a $3.1 billion private foundation that is headquartered in Troy, Mich. According to its website, its goals for Detroit education correspond with a city-wide education plan created by the non-profit group <a href="http://www.excellentschoolsdetroit.org/">Excellent Schools Detroit</a>, which aims to have Detroit be the first major U.S. city to have 90 percent high school graduation, 90 percent enrolled in college or a post-secondary school program an 90 percent of those enrolees succeed without remediation. Kresge invests in projects that: help develop new models of early childhood education; realign health and human services to help students achieve; and bring "innovative and exemplary 21st-century education models to Detroit neighborhoods." The <strong><a href="http://www.wkkf.org/what-we-support/educated-kids.aspx">W.K. Kellogg Foundation</a></strong> was started in 1930 by the breakfast mogul for whom it's named. It's based in Battle Creek Michigan, and has a special emphasis on projects in the state of Michigan. The foundation's education work centers on integrated child development, family literacy, educational advocacy, innovative educational practice and lifelong learning. It also supports Excellent Schools Detroit. The <strong><a href="http://www.mcgregorfund.org/html/2_1_about.htm">McGregor Fund</a></strong> was established in 1925 by social reformers Tracy and Katherine McGregor "to relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of mankind." Currently, the Detroit-based foundation sponsors a <a href="http://www.mcgregorfund.org/html/3_5_programs.htm">New Urban Learning program</a> that considers requests from independent schools, religious schools and charter schools in Detroit, as well as Wayne, Macomb and Oakland county. The <strong><a href="http://www.broadfoundation.org/">Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation</a></strong> is a California-based fund whose founders have ties to Michigan. It operates an institution called the Broad Center, which focuses on recruiting, training and supporting leaders for urban school systems. It offers a leadership development programs for superintendents and a residency that places individuals in management positions in school districts charters and federal and state education departments. Every year the organization offers a $1 million prize for the urban school districts that show the greatest improvement in academic performance while reducing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. It also offers a $250,000 prize for public charter schools. In 2010 the Detroit School Board <a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/same-old-song-dance-as-school-board-opposes-bobb-pay-raise">sued former Emergency Manager Robert Bobb, a graduate of their superintendent program, for receiving tens of thousands of dollars in supplemental income from the Broad Foundation</a> and other philanthropic groups while running the city's public school system. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcchots/3289879888/">Flickr photo</a> by mcchots)
Robert Bobb, DPS Emergency Manager (2009-2011)
Robert Bobb,was appointed as an emergency financial manager to run Detroit's public school system by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2009. During his tenure <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/24/AR2010122402959.html">he broadened the districts' Advanced Placement choices, increased reading and math lesson time for young students, negotiated union concessions and set in motion a $500 million effort to rebuild city schools</a>. He also closed dozens of schools and increased the school deficit <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/24/AR2010122402959.html">from $219 million when he came into office</a> to <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2011/05/robert_bobbs_legacy_detroit_sc.html">$327 million when he left</a>. Bobb was also sued twice by the Detroit Board of Education. Once for <a href="<a href="http://michiganradio.org/post/detroit-board-education-wins-lawsuit-against-robert-bobb">implementing his own academic plan before Public Act 4</a> gave emergency managers authority over academics</a>, and another time<a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/same-old-song-dance-as-school-board-opposes-bobb-pay-raise"> for receiving supplementary income from foundations involved with educational issues while in office</a>. Prior to serving as an emergency financial manager, Bobb was the president of Washington D.C.'s Board of Education. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in April 2010, but after two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, he told the Detroit Free Press in June 2011 that his prognosis for survival was "very good." In April of 2012, Bobb was appointed in Washington D.C. to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/mike-debonis/post/robert-bobb-to-join-board-of-embattled-youth-nonprofit/2012/04/10/gIQA2bRm8S_blog.html">serve in a unpaid position as a board member with the non-profit DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp</a>. Clarification: An earlier version of this slideshow noted that Robert Bobb found work serving as a board member with the non-profit DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. That position is unpaid. Bobb is currently the CEO of the Robert Bobb Group, LLC a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.
John Telford, DPS Interim Superintendent
Dr. John Telford was hired in as the interim superintendent of Detroit Public Schools by the Detroit School Board in August of 2012 at the rate of $1 a year. His appointment<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/10/detroit-school-board-michigan-attorney-general_n_1764286.html"> followed the temporary suspension of Public Act 4</a>, which downgraded the power of Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and allowed the school board to reassert its authority over academics. The <em>Detroit Free Press</em> reports that <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20121005/NEWS01/121005016/Detroit-Public-Schools-John-Telford-heart-attack">much of Telford's work involves visiting schools and DPS officials to evaluate how things are running and that Karen Ridgeway, who was hired by the district's Emergency Manager to run academic operations, still plays a vital role in the the school system's daily operations</a>. Telford has a B.A. and M.Ed. in English and a doctorate in Secondary Administration from Wayne State University. He has worked as a teacher and coach in the Detroit Public School system and served at variety of administrative roles at different Southeast Michigan districts, including Deputy Superintendent for Rochester Public Schools and interim superintendent of Madison Heights Schools. Telford <a href="http://michiganmessenger.com/17855/madison-hts-schools-chief-quits-after-plan-to-boost-enrollment-with-detroit-students-nixed">resigned from his job in the Madison Heights district after a plan of his to aggressively recruit Detroit students</a> to help bring more per-pupil funding into the school system was met with opposition by residents and board members. He claimed he was forced out of the job by racists. Telford recently <a href="http://drjohntelford.blogspot.com/">laid out his objectives for the district in address to the school board</a>. His goals include increasing student achievement and recruiting and retaining high quality employees. The interim superintendent is a former All-American Sprinter and a Golden Gloves champ, as well as the author of a book called "A Life on the Run – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice." Telford suffered a heart-attack on October 4, 2012 and had a stint inserted into an artery by doctors at a Royal Oak, Mich. Hospital to aid his recovery.
Otis Mathis, former School Board President
Otis Mathis is a former Detroit school board president who resigned after being accused of fondling himself during a meeting with a female school superintendent. He stepped down from his position in 2010, tried unsuccessfully to win reinstatement and was ultimately <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/10/ex-detroit_schools_board_presi.html">sentenced to two years probation for the incident</a>. Although he was <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20100304/OPINION03/3040437">praised by some colleagues for his easygoing manner and leadership abilities</a>, Mathis also came under fire during his tenure for his poor writing skills. Some critics <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20100623/COL10/6230357/Sex-acts-by-Otis-Mathis-terrible-example-kids">charged that the School Board President was functionally illiterate</a>. "I never thought you'd get attacked because you were successful, because you figured a way to deal with your disability," <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/03/detroit_school_board_president_1.html">Mathis told Mlive, responding to those allegations.</a>.
John Covington, EAA Chancellor
Dr. John Covington is the Chancellor of the Educational Achievement Authority, a statewide educational system designed to overhaul education in Michigan's lowest performing schools. The EAA, which began its first school year in September 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/18/education-achievement-authority-curriculum-detroit-michigan-computers_n_1798783.html">features an individualized, computer-centered learning program</a>. Currently the system is made up of 15 former Detroit Public Schools. Prior to being hired as the EAA Chancellor, Covington served as a superintendent in Kansas City, MS. During his tenure there Covington <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/01/john-covington-kansas-city-detroit_n_944802.html">balanced the district's budget through a dramatic overhaul that included closing half the city's schools and firing administrative staff</a>. <a href="http://videos.kansascity.com/vmix_hosted_apps/p/media?id=104960621&item_index=26&all=1&sort=NULL">Test scores, however, dropped on his watch</a>. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the <a href="http://www.cgcs.org/site/default.aspx?PageID=1">Council of the Great City Schools</a>, praised Covington for his efforts to stabilize Kansas City's district. "The reforms have been more solidly institutionalized than anything they’ve seen before," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/us/31missouri.html?_r=0"> he told the <em>New York Times</em></a>. Covington has also served as a superintendent in Pueblo, CO and Lowndes County, AL, and has filled a number of other positions at various public schools around the country. Dr. Covington earned B.S., M.S., AA Certification and Ed.S. degrees from Alabama State University. He also holds a M.Ed. Certification from Troy University and an AA Certification and Ed.D. degree from Auburn University.
Michael Khoury, President, Detroit Christo Rey High School
Michael Khoury is president of Detroit Cristo Rey High School, a private Catholic school that opened in 2008. The institution had 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rates for the 2011-2012 school year. Christo Rey holds classes four days a week and requires students to work at a local business or institution one day a week. The work experience helps students pay the cost of tuition. At a speaker series sponsored by The Huffington Post and Model D, <a href="http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/modeldtveduc912.aspx">Khoury said</a>, "Being an eight-year program -- we don't consider our work done until the student graduates from college." Before working at Detroit Cristo Rey, he spent over twenty years in business, holding management positions with Owens Corning, Pilkington Glass and Avery Dennison. He holds a BSBA from Akron University and has an MBA from Indiana University. Khoury is a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-khoury/detroit-cristo-rey-high-school_b_1836132.html">HuffPost blogger</a>.
Keith Johnson, Detroit Federation of Teachers President
Keith Johnson, elected in 2009, heads up the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The union is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and represents teachers in Detroit Public Schools. As President of the Union, Johnson has butted heads with emergency managers Robert Bobb and Roy Roberts. He argued with Bobb<a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2009/12/detroit_teachers_shout_no_to_p.html"> about a teacher pay deferment proposal</a> and later <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/03/schools_report_dft_wants_bobb.html">asked Granholm to remove him from office</a>. He's also fought with Roberts about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/02/detroit-teachers-union-ca_n_1643182.html">the imposition of a contract under the emergency manager law Public Act 4</a>, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/detroit-teachers-union-lawsuit-public-schools-tenure_n_1546583.html">had threatened a "monumental" lawsuit against the school district over district-wide summer layoffs and controversial teacher interviews and evaluations</a>. The suit was averted due to the temporary suspension of Public Act 4. In 2011, Johnson narrowly beat challenger Steve Conn. Conn <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2011/03/with_video_activistteacher_ste.html">alleged irregularities during that election</a> and was later suspended for misconduct and banned from holding union office. Johnson began his teaching career in 1980 and taught in the Detroit Public Schools for 15 years.