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Fight grows against downsizing, privatizing

Published Apr 7, 2010 3:04 PM

A new round of rallies and demonstrations began during the week of March 29 in efforts to halt the closing of 45 schools and other attacks involving the downsizing of Detroit and the sale of the nonprofit Medical Center. Residents came out in the hundreds to community meetings seeking answers and methods of struggle to stop the escalating attacks on the largely African-American and working-class municipality.

On March 29, 200 students, staff and alumni from Cooley High rallied in front of the building requesting that the plan to shut down the school be reversed. The state-appointed Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, has scheduled to close the school at the end of the semester in June.

Alumni extending back to the 1950s and 1960s attended the rally and voiced their concerns to the media that the closing of the school would be devastating to the community. State Rep. Leslie Love, a Cooley alumnus, played a leading role in the gathering.

After the rally, the crowd took the streets and marched along the business district on Fenkell Street. Even though traffic was blocked along the way, motorists honked their horns and gave the Black power salute and thumbs up in support of the demonstration to save the school.

This demonstration lasted for an hour and drew people out of their homes and small businesses to join in the protest. Residents of the neighborhood were unanimous in their sentiment that the closing of Cooley would further damage the social fabric of the community, which has been severely impacted by the deepening economic crisis in Detroit.

Later that evening the first in a series of community meetings called by the DPS emergency financial manager to discuss school closings was held at Henry Ford High School, also located on the northwest side. Four hundred people showed up at the meeting representing Coffey, Holcomb, Langston Hughes, McKenny, Taft and Charles Wright schools.

Both parents and students gave detailed and impassioned presentations in support of keeping their schools open. In addition, Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson spoke as well as in opposition to the closings.

The school closings are being promoted in the corporate media as a cost-cutting mechanism for the cash-strapped district, which is facing a deficit of over $300 million. Yet since the appointment of the emergency financial manager by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm one year ago, the red ink has increased by $100 million.

When the emergency financial manager for DPS took control in 2009, he laid off 1,500 employees but was forced to bring back 1,100 because personnel shortages were so severe that many schools could not even operate. Due to financial mismanagement by the state appointee, the district was forced to take out a short-term loan of $256 million in order to meet payroll and other expenses. (Detroit News, April 4)

The Detroit News, whose editorial stance is in support of the emergency financial manager and state control of the school district, was forced to admit, “Now the district is so broke it has had to plead to state officials for permission to take on yet another short-term loan.” (April 4)

Despite threats by financial manager Bobb to put the school district into receivership or bankruptcy last year if the unions did not accept huge pay and benefit cuts, this plan is no longer advocated because of the damage it has done to the overall bond ratings for both the city and the state of Michigan.

At present the state superintendent, Michael Flanagan, is attempting to force a deal between the elected Detroit School Board and the emergency financial manager in order to secure a $115 million grant from the federal government. The board has filed suit against the emergency financial manager in order to win an injunction to stop the school closings.

Bobb wrote to Otis Mathis, the Detroit Board of Education president, asking for the elected body to drop its lawsuit against his office in exchange for some compromise over control of the district. The Detroit board had sued earlier to stop Bobb from exercising academic control over the district as well.

Yet the question of academic control of the district is superfluous with the impending closure of 45 schools, the possible layoff of over 2,000 employees and the burgeoning deficit. The vice president of the Detroit board, Anthony Adams, said on April 1, “The board has been ignored. The issue is whether he’s prepared to accept us as a partner.” (Detroit Free Press, April 2)

However, the question is what the board and the emergency financial manager will be partnering to accomplish.The community is demanding that all of the school closings be rescinded and that funding be supplied by the state to maintain personnel levels in the district.

In a leaflet being circulated at the anti-school-closing rallies and demonstrations, as well as among the people throughout the city, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs states, “Both Robert Bobb, the unelected DPS emergency financial manager, and Mayor Dave Bing are serving the rich, who are responsible for creating the worst economic crisis this city, state and country has seen since the Great Depression.”

“In order to defeat the banks, corporations and the private foundations like Kresge and Skillman, which are really behind these dictatorial measures to further impoverish the people and deny their right to self-determination, we must build a citywide coalition to demand a moratorium on all foreclosures, evictions, utility shutoffs, layoffs, school closings and mass dislocation.”

“Tell Mayor Bing to declare a state of economic emergency and suspend debt-service payments to the banks and demand that the federal government immediately establish public works programs to create jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed and poor people in Detroit.”

In regard to the DPS deficit and its relationship to the banks, a Detroit News editorial revealed that “80 percent of Detroit’s state aid will go to debt payment instead of classrooms. That is extraordinary, given the students’ dire academic needs.” (April 4)

Downsizing efforts halted over environmental concerns

Illustrating the undemocratic and chaotic character of the corporate-engineered plans to “rightsize” Detroit during the census year, a much-trumpeted plan to utilize $20 million in federal dollars to demolish vacant homes in the city was halted on the first day by state officials due to the failure of the Bing administration to have the buildings inspected for untreated asbestos, a known carcinogen.

When the first house was being bulldozed, the project was stopped, leaving the home as a gaping eyesore and possible environmental danger. “I don’t want to have to breathe this stuff,” said Alex Alexander, 73, who lives next door to the abandoned home. (Detroit News, April 3)

Alexander continued, “I am worried I am going to get sick.” The Detroit News reported, “State officials only learned of the city’s federally funded demolition blitz — which Mayor Bing touted in his ‘State of the City’ speech last week — through the media. The state said the city didn’t file a required 10-day notice with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment over its plans to raze the house. Such a notice would include whether the house has asbestos.”

The demolition blitz is slated to carry out large-scale destruction of abandoned homes, many of which are owned by the banks, in the neighborhoods of Brightmoor, Herman Gardens, Southwest, Kettering, North End, North Central, Osborn and Far East/East English Village. The deputy director of the city’s Building Safety and Engineering Department said on April 2 that 160 houses have already been torn down without the necessary environmental permit.

Private takeover of Medical Center challenged

In other efforts aimed at stopping the privatization of the city, a coalition of nonprofit organizations has declared that the proposed sale of the nonprofit Medical Center, located in the Wayne State University area, is illegal under state law. The three groups, calling themselves the Coalition to Protect Detroit Health Care, wrote a letter to the Michigan attorney general, Mike Cox, who must approve the sale, stating that the possible takeover by the Nashville-based Vanguard Health Systems would violate laws that prohibit nonprofit “assets to be used, conveyed or distributed for noncharitable purposes.” (FierceHealthCare.com, April 1)

“We want to make sure the sale reflects the long-term best interests of the city of Detroit versus the short-term interests of Vanguard,” said Marjorie Mitchell, the executive director of Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is calling for a mass demonstration at City Hall on April 20 to unite the forces fighting around all the major issues in Detroit. In a call, the coalition says, “Corporate interests are moving rapidly to privatize public education, break the Detroit Public Schools unions, seize the municipal pension funds, sell the Detroit Medical Center and drive tens of thousands of people from their homes so that the banks can prosper at the expense of working people and youth.”