Teacher Sick-Outs Close Most Detroit Schools for a 2nd Day
DETROIT – A legislative committee approved a $500 million plan Tuesday to restructure Detroit public schools as most schools stayed closed for a second consecutive day after hundreds of teachers called out sick over concerns that they won’t get paid if the district runs out of money.
The proposal passed by the House Appropriations Committee mostly along party lines would retire the district’s enormous debt and launch a new district. It would spend less than a $700-plus million plan approved by the Senate in March.
Majority Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over issues such as money, state oversight, charter schools, labor contracts and how quickly an elected school board would take power.
The district closed 94 of its 97 schools – the same number of schools that cancelled classes on Monday, when more than 1,500 teachers did not show up for work.
It was not immediately clear how many of Detroit Public School’s approximately 46,000 students were affected by Tuesday’s sick-out. More than 45,000 missed class Monday, according to the district.
Teachers were expected to continue picketing outside administrative offices where several hundred protested on Monday. A union membership meeting was scheduled Tuesday afternoon at a Detroit church.
“Let us be clear. We are still locked out,” Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey said in an email late Monday to the union rank-and-file. “We do not work for free and therefore we do not expect you to report to school tomorrow.”
The district has been under continuous state oversight since 2009 under the leadership of a series of emergency managers who have tried to cut down its debt and millions of dollars in annual deficits. Current transition manager and former federal judge Steven Rhodes, who oversaw the city’s recent bankruptcy, warned over the weekend that $47.8 million in emergency money that the state approved in March will run out by June 30.
Teachers opting to have their pay spread over a full 12 months instead of the course of the school year would not receive paychecks in July and August without more help from the state.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka started the hearing Tuesday in Lansing by saying “it’s now time for us to act” after the GOP-led Senate passed the restructuring plan. Pscholka said it does not matter who gets blamed for Detroit schools’ long-lasting problems, and that “the future of Detroit’s schoolchildren … is on the line.”
But the growing sick-outs that started late last year with just a small group of teachers appear to be threatening the plan.
Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, said Monday that the sick-outs, conducted by “egotistical teachers,” have cost Detroit schoolchildren more than a million hours of instruction.
“Their selfish and misguided plea for attention only makes it harder for us to enact a rescue plan and makes it harder for Detroit’s youngest residents to get ahead and build a future for themselves,” Cotter said in a statement.
But one parent who was missing work because her daughter has been shut out of class both days said the blame for the district’s financial maladies falls on the shoulders of the state, not the teachers.
“I think (the teachers) have been doing the best that they can with the resources that they have,” said Monique Baker McCormick, whose daughter is an 11th grader at Cass Tech. “They’re just trying to survive themselves off of what little they get. So I don’t blame them at all for fighting for what they deserve.”
Still, things are starting to look bleak for the district that had 150,415 students in 2003-2004.
“I think this is the end and this is where the whole dismantling of the Detroit public school system begins,” Baker McCormick said. “The state took over, and now look at where we are.”
The Associated Press