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State 'Fact-Finder' Enters Dispute in Detroit; Striking Teachers Gain Influential Support

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Detroit--As striking teachers and school officials in the nation's seventh-largest school district began a "fact-finding" process last week, another cut in state aid deepened the district's immediate financial difficulties.

Reversing an earlier vote, the Michigan legislature approved a $72-million cut in aid to public elementary and secondary schools. The action is expected to add an immediate cash shortage of $7 million to the Detroit school system's projected 1982-83 deficit of $60 million.

Because the $7-million shortfall in state funds will be made up by the end of the school year, it is not expected to hamper negotiations between the city school board and the 11,000-member Detroit Federation of Teachers, whose members walked out on Sept. 13 after three days of school.

But the union and school board positions remain so far apart that the two sides are expected to spend about three weeks in fact-finding before reaching a settlement.

In the fact-finding process, a state-apointed mediator acts as a judge, hearing evidence and arguments presented by both sides in the dispute. The mediator then submits his findings and recommendations, which are nonbinding, to both sides.

"It's a shame that schools here must be closed during this lengthy process," said the mediator, David Tanzman, "but the time for a quick settlement has passed. Both sides have been very inflexible about their positions." The Detroit school board has demanded that teachers make contract concessions totaling $23 million for the 1982-83 year. Teachers have been asked to accept larger classes, fewer paid holidays, and an 8-percent cut in their previous year's salary. For the average Detroit teacher, the rollback would mean an annual salary reduction from $26,330 to $24,224.

Detroit teachers say they will work for the same pay as last year, but have adamantly refused any concessions. "We don't believe their deficit projection," said John M. Elliott, president of the union. "And we are not going to take these upfront cuts at their insistence."

The striking teachers picked up some support last week. An influential association of clergy and a coalition of 12 other Detroit school unions both urged the school board to reopen classes and pay teachers at last year's salary scale while bargaining continues. Mayor Coleman A.Young, who has many allies on the board, said teachers "would be crazy" to accept wage cuts.

Still, the board and administration pressed for the concessions. "If our teachers have an alternative suggestion for reducing the deficit, I'll be happy to listen to it," said Superintendent Arthur Jefferson. "But so far I haven't heard anything."

That deficit became more of a factor as the legislature approved Gov. William G. Milliken's plan to cut $150 million in school aid to balance the state's budget. The cut includes $72.3 million in aid to elementary and secondary schools and $39 million in aid to higher education.

Governor Milliken's cost-cutting order, his fourth in the past year, had been rejected by the legislature two weeks earlier. To gain legislative support for the plan, the Governor agreed to make accelerated aid payments of $111 million to schools and colleges next June 30 instead of in August 1983.

State lawmakers had already agreed to restore another $80 million next year in education subsidies that were cut from this year's budget. Because the fiscal year for Michigan schools runs from July 1 to June 30, the change would mean no loss in state aid during this school year. At the same time, the plan lets the state close the books on a budget year that ends on Sept. 30.

--Glen Macnow

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