Detroit schools' decline and teacher sickout reflect bad economy and demographic shifts
For two days this month, most Detroit schools were closed as teachers staged a sickout after learning the district was so low on funds it might not pay them.
(Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)
e mostly poor and black students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools have been exposed to lead, have endured crumbling classrooms, and have some of the lowest literacy rates in the country. They've also seen one neighborhood school after another shut down.
Then this month they had to endure something else. For two days, most of them had no school to go to.
On May 2 and 3 — the start of Teacher Appreciation Week — scores of teachers called in sick, shutting down 97% of schools. The action came about after the teachers union said it learned that the district was running out of money, and that teachers' paychecks might not be guaranteed past June 30.
Most teachers went back to school after the union secured a promise that they would be paid through the end of June.
The walkout was yet another troubling episode for a long-beleaguered school district that is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and behind on payments to its retirement system. It was also another reminder of how the destiny of schools is guided by shifting demographics, the growing charter-school sector and poor economics, though Detroit is an extreme example.
How did things get so bad?
The distrust and financial insecurity that exploded this month followed years of buildup — a mounting deficit, dramatically declining enrollment and management by one state-appointed official after another. The problems paralleled Detroit's overall downturn as it lost population and jobs as industry declined.
"The district is starved for cash," said Mike Addonizio, an education professor at Wayne State University. "That brought them to where they are today."
A major driver of that loss in revenue has been the loss of students. In 2002-2003, Detroit Public Schools counted 164,496 students in its ranks — by this year, that number was down to 47,000. And with each student that leaves, so do several thousand dollars. The Detroit schools' decline and teacher sickout reflect bad economy and demographic shifts - LA Times: