Detroit teachers have elected teacher and activist Steve Conn as the new head of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
Conn won the role of president as he replaced longtime rival Keith Johnston, who will be retiring after 6 years on the job.
He will be leading a 4,000-member union that has seen years of cuts to their pay and benefits as their class sizes increase into a new era, which Conn says will not be controlled by state.
He has run for the role multiple times in the past. He believes he was successful in this election due to an overwhelming feeling of being fed up among members over the “fiasco disaster” that emergency managers appointed by the governor brought to the district over the past six years, reports Ann Zaniewski for The Detroit Free Press.
“Detroit teachers voted today to stand up to the attacks on their schools, their jobs and their students’ futures by Snyder and his executive managers,” said Conn in the release. “I take office Tuesday, and am immediately calling a mass meeting of the union membership and community to begin a fight against these attacks, to defend public education, and to win equal, quality education for our students. We must vote on a plan of action for the DFT to join the citizens of Detroit in a fight to restore democracy and dignity to all of the people of Detroit.”
One of his top priorities in his role as president will be to push for smaller class sizes. Typical class sizes in the district are currently between 40-50 students, some have even more, writes Jennifer Chambers for The Detroit News.
Other ideas include depleting the district of its debt, and giving control back to an elected school board. He also has plans to ensure each school has a union representative and would like to see the end of the emergency manager “dictatorship.”
The district has a deficit of around $170 million, and received its fourth emergency manager just last week.
“The message I am sending is we are building a civil rights movement here and the No. 1 goal is fighting for equality for the young people of Detroit,” Conn said Monday.
Conn was suspended from the union in 2011 after trying to disrupt a swearing-in ceremony for new union officers at a meeting.
In 2008 Conn was fired along with his wife, also a teacher, after being accused of leading a protest in May of 2007 that resulted in middle and high school students being pepper-sprayed and detained by police officers. The couple sued the district and won a $300,000 judgement, as well as their jobs back.