DETROIT — A plan to save money and boost achievement by converting 41 Detroit schools to charter operations may become a battle between unionized teachers and the plan’s supporters, according to media reports.

Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, said the new school leaders would have hiring autonomy and that their teachers would not be covered under the current union contract, the Free Press and Wall Street Journal reported.

Charter school operators told the Free Press that such autonomy would be critical to success, but Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said any removal of teachers from the current contract would be illegal, the Journal reported.

District spokesman Steve Wasko told the Journal that pension costs were a major financial reason for the proposal.

Jose Fonso, an executive with SABIS Educational Systems, told the News that the company is interested in working in Detroit, but that, "you can't have high expectations for folks and then not give them the freedom and flexibility to achieve those expectations."

SABIS operates nine charter schools in Michigan, including the award-winning International Academy of Flint.

Doug Ross, chief executive officer of New Urban Learning, said the district needs to close poorly performing schools, the Free Press reported, and that he would lean toward turning over the entire district to charter organizers.

Detroit Free Press, "Charter operators: Autonomy is key," March 13, 2011

Wall Street Journal, “Detroit plan makes big charter school bet,” March 14, 2011

Michigan Education Report, “Can School Choice Work in Detroit?” Feb. 4, 2011