By Dr. John Telford
Author, Poet, and Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, June 14, 2012 – March 29, 2013
Fascism & classism
Are nearly clearly the same crime.
Therefore I say that since they may,
They clearly nearly need to rhyme!
The 1999 state takeover of Detroit’s public schools spearheaded a horrifying assault on Detroit voters’ rights which has culminated in local and federal judicial collusion in the gangster banksters’ repressive theft of Michigan’s largest city and its precious assets fifteen years later—but nationally, this is only the opening volley of an extraordinarily virulent fusillade of neo-fascism. Along with other Michigan school districts with overwhelmingly black and brown student populations, it is a matter of casual fact that the public schools in Detroit have long been egregiously under-funded vis-à-vis the Detroit metropolitan area’s white suburban districts. Such segregation and unequal funding have casually and continuously violated the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that “separate but ‘equal’ is inherently unequal.” This ruling now in 2014 is of six-decade vintage. Thus, while I am viscerally fearful of the fascist, classist overtones of the emergency management model that Michigan’s predominantly Republican lawmakers have inflicted on the city of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools, as an educator I am equally and specifically concerned about Detroit Public Schools’ free-falling tailspin under the weight of its unwarranted 1999 state takeover and under the subsequent and still extant “emergency” management that in effect began during the administration of then-Governor John Engler. I am terrifyingly troubled, too, by the internal institutional classism that I have witnessed being visited upon the vast impoverished majority of our public schoolchildren in Detroit—children who walk to school every day through blighted and murderously crime-infested neighborhoods.
It needs to be stated here upfront that due to evident corporate, political, and media moguls’ mutual back-scratching, many of the truths in this piece haven’t seen—nor will they likely ever fully see—the light of day in the daily Detroit News or even in the once-populist daily Free Press and weekly Metro Times, nor will readers ever find them in the weekly Detroit-based Michigan Chronicle. For the same reasons, these frightening facts in their unvarnished entirety undoubtedly will never be telecast on any of the three major local television stations. However, the un-bossed and un-bought weekly Michigan Citizen and the equally neighborhood-oriented and independent Detroit Native Sun—a small but widely-circulated monthly newspaper published and edited by former Michigan Chronicle editor Valerie Lockhart—have consistently persisted in reporting them with lone and laser-like intensity, as have I on my half-hour radio show on WCHB NewsTalk1200 (Sunday afternoons at 4:30, also simulcast on 99.9FM).
At the time of its unjust state takeover, Detroit Public Schools boasted a $93 million surplus and its test scores were at the state midpoint and rising, despite the city’s chronic social problems engendered by what nationally recognized urbanologist john a. powell and I described in a May 5, 1999 Detroit Free Press column as “concentrated poverty” by race and by residence. However, Detroit voters had recently passed a $1.5 billion construction-bond millage, and Governor Engler and those close to him were hungrily eying the potential contract bids, so they took DPS over and supplanted the democratically elected Detroit Board of Education with an appointed “reform” board simply because they could. When DPS Emergency Manager Robert Bobb departed ten years later, he left the school system with test scores that were the worst in America and a $327 million deficit partially caused by multiple out-of-town consultants whom he rewarded exorbitantly. Also, in 2008 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General audited DPS’ Title I records for 2004 – 2006 and issued a report that included $53,618,859 in negative findings which led to MDE placing DPS in high-risk status. So much for “reform.”
Bobb was succeeded as Emergency Manager by former General Motors executive Roy Roberts, who virtually gave away fifteen schools, including six of our high schools (one which was brand-new and cost $50.5 million) to a now-failing quasi-school district created by Governor Rick Snyder and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature and discriminatorily imposed only on black Detroit. DPS EM Roberts actually sat on the board of this rogue district in a blatant conflict of interest. The quasi-district’s Orwellian creators euphemistically entitled this dis-educative, un-achieving, intrusive entity the “Educational Achievement” Authority (EAA), which subsequently trumped up and trumpeted some imaginary academic “accomplishments” in a dishonest and unsuccessful attempt to garner federal funds. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and House Republicans are now endeavoring to expand the incompetent EAA in Detroit and beyond Detroit. This villainous endeavor proceeds briskly apace despite the EAA’s declining enrollment, its rejection of Special Education students, and its gang problems, truancy problems, and other chronic student-misbehaviors—not to mention its ongoingly abysmal test scores. Also under DPS Emergency Manager Roberts’ watch, more than 400 veteran teachers were fired in 2012 on bogus five- and ten-minute evaluations and replaced with uncertified young, predominantly white Teach for America personnel who started at the bottom of the pay scale and have since experienced an epidemic of discipline problems in their classrooms. Similar teacher-replacements with TFA personnel also occurred in the fifteen EAA schools, with similar results.
An elitist phenomenon that I can best describe as a virulently fascistic form of “structural classism” prevails within DPS’ top administrative ranks, with a very few of its schools primarily reserved for the children of the city’s professional “elite” and most of the vast remaining others left to languish with outdated texts, limited equipment and supplies, decaying school plants and grounds, sharply curtailed auxiliary-personnel service, and watered-down curricula. Also, the Emergency Manager closed the renowned school for the deaf and a state-of-the-art school for the severely handicapped, leaving those students with nonexistent or woefully inadequate educational resources. He also closed a historic school at Detroit City Airport now named for legendary mayor Coleman A. Young that had taught teens to fly aircraft and/or become airplane mechanics. This unique school had been sponsored in part by the acclaimed Tuskegee Airmen. It is now being turned over to people with connections to the Jones-Day law firm, the agency which until recently employed Kevyn Orr, who currently is the gubernatorially-appointed Emergency Manager of the city of Detroit. (Can you spell c-o-l-l-u-s-i-o-n?)
Public Act 436 is a replacement law for the emergency manager law that Michigan’s citizens voted to repeal on November 6, 2012. Just before PA 436 disempowered the new and elected Detroit School Board for the second time, the Board extended my pro bono contract as its Superintendent through December 31, 2014 in order to be able to enact a loophole-clause that would legally enable it to free the district from emergency “management” with a two-thirds majority vote of its membership and my enthusiastically promised approval to occur on February 8, 2014—the date that Mr. Roberts’ eighteen-month tenure as Emergency Manager could be terminated (or eighteen months from the recent hire of new EM Jack Martin, depending on a judge’s impending ruling whether the eighteen-month clock for hiring the EM was reset with the hire of Martin).
With the intent to prevent me from granting that guaranteed approval, then-Emergency Manager Roy Roberts fired me from the Superintendency on March 29, 2013—the day after the illegal and disenfranchising replacement law took effect. The Detroit School Board promptly prevailed upon me to sue in Federal Court to retain the Superintendency so I would still be able to help it ultimately free DPS from an EM—and sue I immediately did. Governor Snyder and his Republican attorney general then countersued, with the help of apparent and still-puzzling judicial collusion, to block me. (They are also suing me for $35,000 in defense attorney fees, so now as a 78-year-old pensioner on a fixed income I find myself in the unenviable position of having to fight this most recent lawsuit.)
New DPS Emergency Manager Martin is understandably striving to put a faux-democratic face on things, claiming that the deficit is “only” $80 million now, but his immediate predecessor had recently borrowed over $200 million to create an artificial reduction. Troublingly, a local judge has now affirmed that Mr. Martin can appoint Board of Education members and determine who the Board President and other Board officers will be, rather than have them continue to be democratically elected. That disenfranchising affirmation will be appealed. Mr. Martin also points to some recent curricular improvements that his predecessor actually did initiate—some which incidentally were adapted from an extensive series of intended initiatives which I had originally shared with the Board, the staff, and the community in the late spring of 2012 in my capacity as its newly-appointed Superintendent, but all of which then-EM Roberts read and rejected out-of-hand soon thereafter.
Many of my solutions—then and now–for repairing the multiple damages that the failed state takeover has visited upon Detroit’s public schoolchildren aren’t “rocket science.” They include 1) eradicating the rampant truancy via strengthening Attendance Department staffing, 2) ensuring that all of our early elementary school students learn to read via squeezing the class-size balloon to add students to upper elementary grades in order to reduce class size in the first and second grades, 3) remediating secondary school students who didn’t learn to read, and 4) providing compensatory alternative environments (reopen some closed elementary buildings) for the misbehavers and surround them with social workers, remedial-reading staff, heightened security staff, etc., so that the teachers left behind can teach and those far more numerous students left behind who are behaving can learn. In order that urban school-district administrators and other interested parties may ascertain how these things can be made to happen most cost–effectively in their districts as well, I recommend my three books—A Life on the RUN, What OLD MEN Know, and Creative Insubordination (www.AlifeontheRUN.com) –particularly the first one.
With the disappointingly troubling approbation of State Superintendent Michael Flanagan, the current Governor of Michigan is still predictably (and wrongfully) insisting that despite recent “improvements,” the Detroit Public Schools must remain under emergency management rather than be rightfully returned to the aegis of its democratically elected board of education and its chosen superintendent (namely, me). Emergency “management” for DPS remains the order of the day even though the state itself CREATED the schools’ fiscal and academic emergency during the failed state takeover. Along with multitudinous other damage, this long and unwarranted takeover has been responsible in great measure for a pre-takeover DPS of nearly 200,000 students having shrunk incredibly to a November, 2014 count of 48,962!
We the People of Detroit now await action from the United States Attorney General to respond to our several urgent lawsuits for him to come in, investigate, and move to overturn Public Act 436 on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, since it illegally replaces Public Act 4, the emergency manager law that the citizens of our state voted to repeal. Meanwhile, Detroit and its public schools remain America’s absolute epicenter of the African-American economic, political and educational freedom fight. Our schools and our city are the initial war zone for the defense of three of the most basic democratic rights of and for all Americans. It is no exaggeration to say that Detroit has become the national battleground and first line of defense in the coming fight against fascism and classism and for the very survival of democracy in our country. The earned pensions of municipal workers in Detroit and Chicago are under dire reductive threat, as are those of Chicago’s public schoolteachers. The pensions of Detroit’s teachers will be next to go, as will ultimately those of public employees throughout Michigan and our entire nation. As has happened historically elsewhere on the planet (pre-Nazi Germany in 1933 comes to immediate mind), a financial crisis partially manufactured by intentional governmental acts is being used as a similar ploy in our town to consolidate power and privilege into the hands of a smaller and smaller and richer and richer corporate aristocracy, which has also bought and corrupted the major local media in Michigan’s pivotal tri-county area of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.
There are very few of us Americans still live today who can remember when the initially democratically elected Adolf Hitler put emergency managers in Germany’s provinces, calling them oberfuehrers—and then commandeered the press. As the unwilling and resistant intended victims of this same sort of fascism imposed upon us by Public Act 436, we embattled grass-roots Detroiters have been frighteningly and fascistically stripped of those three most sacrosanct and fundamental rights—1) the unfettered right to choose our own genuinely empowered leaders for our schools and our city in order to prevent the criminal theft of our schools and city and the cannibalizing of our priceless assets, 2) the moral right to retain the sacrosanctity of constitutionally-protected pension agreements between the employer and the employed in a public agency, and 3) the human right to a free and equal education for our children under the rule of law. The Attorney General of the United States must face down the gangster banksters and intervene soon to rescue Detroit from the unconstitutional yoke of this lawless law. Should he falter or hesitate much longer, civil disobedience on a massive scale will become the only timely resort for a desperate Detroit—once America’s mighty arsenal of democracy, and now America’s initial battlement for our imperiled American democracy’s defense and ultimate survival.
Dr. John Telford—a longtime educator, columnist, and radio/television commentator in southeastern Michigan—began his teaching, coaching, and administrative career in Detroit Public Schools in 1958. He was a Detroit Mayoral candidate in 2013 and a recent Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, duly appointed by the current democratically elected but recently illegally disempowered Detroit Board of Education. His three books, A Life on the RUN – Seeking and Safeguarding Social Justice, What OLD MEN Know – A Definitive Dictionary and Almanac of Advice, and Creative Insubordination – 40 Successful Strategies, are available on Amazon.com, HarmonieParkPress.com, via order at Barnes & Noble, or on his website – www.ALifeontheRUN.com. What OLD MEN Know features an introduction by Dr. Wayne Dyer, renowned educator and personal-advice expert. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer called Dr. Telford’s autobiography “spellbinding,” Southfield (Michigan) trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger called it “inspiring,” and a former press secretary to three Detroit mayors pronounced it the best book on Detroit he had ever read. Dr. Telford also wrote The Longest Dash, a little paperback on quarter-miling (Track & Field News Press, 1965 and 1971). His blog is http://DrJohnTelford.blogspot.com. In the 1950s, he was an NCAA All-American sprinter who outran Olympic champions and was unbeaten representing the United States in Europe on our national team.
Dr. Telford has taught at Wayne State and Oakland Universities and administrated at Macomb Community College. In 1982, he received a Distinguished Educator Award from the Kettering Foundation-sponsored Institute for the Development of Educational Ideas (IDEA). In 2001, Wayne State University named him its Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, and ten years later the Detroit-based Joe Louis Memorial Foundation presented him with its coveted Spirit of the Champ Award—both awards having been given to him for his human-rights endeavors. Intermittently throughout his 56-year career, he has received death threats, and his house was hit by midnight gunfire in 1989 by members of a group calling themselves the “Southeastern Michigan Skinheads”—an incident which, along with his numerous other egalitarian initiatives that included pioneering the hire of black administrators in a white district (Rochester Community Schools), landed him on the cover of the Metro Times, a local weekly, in May of 1991, and on the front pages of the daily newspapers. His Telford’s Telescope columns have appeared regularly in several major local papers. Currently they appear in the monthly Detroit Native Sun. He also hosts a 4:30 Sunday afternoon radio show on WCHB Detroit NewsTalk1200, an AM station that simulcasts on 99.9FM. He can be contacted at DrJohnTelfordEdD@aol.com, at (313) 460-8272, or at 8900 E. Jefferson, Ste. 1107, Detroit MI 48214.