Detroit teachers elect controversial new leader

Steve Conn elected president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers

DETROIT – Steve Conn said everything is on the table, including rallies, protests, walkouts and strikes. His critics say a school board under emergency management can't afford those tactics but Conn said it's a new day for Detroit Public Schools.

Conn has been called many things -- such as activist, teacher and protester -- and now president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

"We are drawing a line against the state's destruction of Detroit Public Schools," said Conn. "We're turning around, we're demanding that class size be reduced, we get the books to the students. We're fed up."

Outgoing DFT President Keith Johnson said he fears for the future of the union and Detroit Public Schools.

"He's never had a willingness or an ability to try to work with the other side," Johnson said.

For the past six years DPS has been under emergency management, and under state control for most of the past decade and a half.

Conn said teachers won't accept the status quo any longer.

"We want the goods and services delivered to us so we can instruct," said Conn. "We will do what is necessary as we say by any means necessary."

But the outgoing president said that's not the right approach.

"This is a time when either you don't like your adversary or you don't support, in this case, the notion of an emergency manager because he has full authority," said Johnson. "You have no choice but to work with him."

"Keith is lost, Keith is out, Keith's policies have been rejected, he's completely out of touch," Conn said.

There's one piece of advice Johnson has for Conn.

"My primary advice would be to change who you are," said Johnson.

This is divided union. Of the roughly 4,000 teachers in the union, about a quarter voted in the election. Conn won by 15 votes.

Conn told Local 4 News the union is united and stands behind him.

The first rally of Con's union presidency is Tuesday, the same day Gov. Rick Snyder will give his State of the State address. Snyder has also appointed a new emergency manager. Keep in mind, this is a district with a $300 million deficit.

About the Author:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism