Detroit School Crisis Goes Way Beyond A Couple Days Of Missed Class
Schools reopened after two days of teacher protests, but the beleaguered district is still set to run out of cash.
After two days of protests and empty classrooms, Detroit public school teachersreturned to work Wednesday with new assurances from administration officials that they wouldn’t have their pay cut off — but the end to the conflict doesn’t resolve the district’s financial crisis or lingering concerns with leadership.
Teachers were informed on the weekend that if the district runs out of cash in a few months — as it’s on track to, without financial aid from the state — they would not receive paychecks after June. Teachers have the option of spreading their pay throughout the year instead of just getting checks when school is in session; and as many choose the former they feared they would lose a chunk of their salary.
In protest, over a thousand teachers called in sick to work Monday and Tuesday, closing 94 of 97 schools as they rallied at district headquarters. The “sickouts” — a tactic that replaces striking, which is illegal — drew criticism from Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and concern from the White House.
But Tuesday evening, union leadership encouraged members to return to their classrooms because they had received “assurance” from the district’s state-appointed emergency manager that teacher pay was safe.
Teachers rally outside Detroit Public Schools district headquarters, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Teachers calling in sick closed nearly all of the district’s schools after learning they may not get paid because the school system is set to run out of money.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) commended the resolution.
“I appreciate the hard work and dedication displayed by Detroit Federation of Teachers leadership, Judge Rhodes, and the Governor to resolve this issue so our children can return to class [Wednesday] morning,” he said in a statement.
Emma Howland-Bolton, a fifth-grade DPS teacher, was left frustrated that her colleagues’ other demand — an audit to determine the cause of the district’s deficit — was ignored.
“Being paid for the work that we do is not a win. That is a legal right and an expectation,” she said. “Without the forensic audit ... we could very easily find ourselves in the same position in a week, or a month or six months.”
And there is still no plan in place to fund the district after this year. The district’s projected year-end budget deficit is $320 million and its long-term debts total $3.5 billion, according to The New York Times.
After sending nearly $49 million in emergency aid to DPS in March, Michigan’s legislature is considering controversial reforms that would direct up to $715 million to the district, cordon off its debt and create a new commission that would oversee school openings and closures in the city, including charter schools.
The plan has many detractors, including a number of Republican legislators,charter school advocates, and teachers like Howland-Bolton who believe continued state oversight will not solve financial problems. Others, including Duggan and Snyder, believe the reforms and funding laid out in the bills passed by the state Senate are the only viable steps to save the school system.
An alternate plan that advanced out of a state House committee Tuesday wouldDetroit School Crisis Goes Way Beyond A Couple Days Of Missed Class: