Detroit, Education, Teachers — August 20, 2014 at 10:43 am

Detroit school teachers vow to fight yet another pay cut, increased class sizes, and 24 school closings


[NOTE: Edited to clarify that the DPS budget was created by the DPS Emergency Manager Jack Martin, not the School Board.]

When Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin put together the Detroit Public Schools budget for the coming year, it included revenue from a $14.8 million county-wide school millage that did not pass in the August primary election. Because of this blunder, now the district finds itself having make huge changes. In an updated budget and deficit-elimination plan to the Michigan Department of Education last week, we found out just how huge:

  • DPS teachers, who took a a 10% wage cut in 2011, will see their wages cut by 10% again
  • The district will lay off people to eliminate 1,381 positions from this year through 2019
  • 24 additional schools will close starting next year
  • Teachers will pay as much as $13.1 million more for their health insurance coverage
  • Golf and tennis will be ended for both boys and girls

Unsurprisingly, teachers are not taking this sitting down, not especially surprising since they are facing a loss of a fifth of their salary while working in one of the most difficult and challenging teaching environments in the entire country.

Here’s a statement put out by Detroit AFT Executive Vice President Edna Reaves:

The latest proposed moves by Detroit Public Schools (DPS) increasing class size, school closings, layoffs, increased health care payments and another ten percent wage cut must be rejected by Governor Snyder. To date, Governor Snyder has been dismantling our school district and our students have been the victims. In a district with fewer and fewer school age children it is unconscionable to open the system up to unlimited charters schools with no quality control and to take away schools for an experimental district that is clearly failing. How do we keep and attract the best and the brightest teachers and staff with yet another ten percent wage cut and increased payments for health care? We call on Governor Snyder to reject DPS’s proposed deficit elimination plan and work with the community, teachers and staff to address our students’ needs and rebuild DPS.

The rank and file employees of this district pour their hearts and souls into their work. If we care about Detroit’s children, and that is what the Detroit Federation of Teachers is all about, then this DPS proposed plan cannot and will not stand. Our members will fight this in the streets, in the courts and at the ballot box in November.

Keith Johnson, the President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers was equally blunt:

I will exhaust every dollar available to me as president of DFT to make the district pay for their ineptitude and their attempts to impose their ineptitude or the cost of their ineptitude upon the DFT and other employees. The more we give, the more they want. They more they want, the more they take. We simply are not going to let them take any more.

The district has always had to save money and unfortunately, they feel that the way to do it is to always penalize the employees. But who in their right mind submits a budget that has contingency money in it, saying that this budget is in part predicated upon a millage that we hope passes?

The irresponsible part here is that the district submitted as part of their budget, money that would have been generated by the passage of that millage. Now that that millage has failed, their revised deficit elimination plan further penalizes the employees of the district. It is completely irresponsible to base your budget upon money that you did not know you would have.

On top of that, the restructured health care means that the disposable income of our employees will have been reduced by somewhere around 25 percent. People still have to live, they still have to provide for their families and we should not have to continue to pay for the district’s ineptitude. We’re talking about people, some of whom are only making about $40,000, and now you’re talking about cutting their pay by another 10 percent. That is completely unacceptable.

It is time for our governor and our state legislators to return the money that was taken from our public schools to pay for corporate tax cuts that have done nothing to improve our state’s economy and to reprioritize education in Michigan. It simply makes no sense to put the brunt of the burden on the teachers who had nothing to do with the financial emergencies that are happening in our schools across the state.

A great deal of lip service is paid to how important it is to get Detroit Public Schools back on their feet and ending the tragic failure of our responsibility to Detroit children. Cutting teachers’ pay by a fifth and increasing their health insurance expenses will do NOTHING toward that end and will ensure that the best teachers will have nothing to do with a school system that needs them most.

When taken as a whole, this looks very much like an intentional bleeding dry of the Detroit Public Schools so that it can be parceled off to for-profit charters with their complete lack of oversight and accountability and their lack of proven success in so many instances.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until something is done: Detroit schools need an “Education Surge”, just like the “Surge” we did in Iraq. That surge has several components:

  • Bring in the best teachers and paying them what they are worth for the incredibily difficult job they are being asked to do.
  • Hire capable, talented administrators to manage the schools and provide the educators with the resources they need to improve the education of Detroit kids.
  • Invest in infrastructure and facilities so that Detroit kids attend schools that are just as high quality as their counterparts in the wealthy Detroit suburbs.
  • Use education models that have been tested and proven to work and involve not only teachers and students but parents, community residents, and local businesses.

What we’re seeing in Detroit truly IS the intentional dismantling of a large public school district. It’s long past time for that to stop.