Teaching Profession

Detroit Leaders Sign Off on New Pact, But Will Teachers Follow?

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 08, 2009 1 min read
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Detroit schools’ emergency financial manager Robert Bobb and teachers’ union leader Keith Johnson have agreed to a tentative contract for the district that contains a lot of New Haven-like reforms. Given that, you’d be forgiven for wondering why the American Federation of Teachers isn’t promoting the heck out of it.

Well, as this Detroit Free Press story explains, it’s not clear whether or not the union membership will actually ratify it. And that comes down to plain ol’ bread and butter issues, not the new reform proposals.

Given the district’s dire financial straights, teachers wouldn’t get raises for the next two years and only a 1 percent raise after that under the tentative pact. Starting in January 2010, they’d also be asked to have $250 deducted pre-tax from each pay period to address cash-flow problems in the district, for a total withholding of $10,000. This money would be returned upon their separation from the district.

Teachers, as you might expect, are not at all happy with this plan. On the Detroit Federation of Teachers Web site, Johnson penned a somewhat emphatic explanation of why he agreed to the proposal. The gist of it is that these cuts are a lot less severe than what Bobb originally proposed:

In the worst case scenario, Robert Bobb can exercise his unlimited authority to declare bankruptcy and wipe out 42 years of collective bargaining accomplishments for the DFT ... THIS IS NOT A SCARE TACTIC, THIS IS THE REALITY! Robert Bobb IS NOT COMING BACK TO THE BARGAINING TABLE! HE HAS MADE IT CLEAR THAT HE HAS GIVEN ALL HE IS WILLING TO GIVE." (The caps are Johnson's.)

The membership has between Dec. 14 and Dec. 18 to vote on whether to ratify the contract. And if they do, AFT will have a lot to talk about, because the pact would contain what I’m starting to think of as AFT President Randi Weingarten’s signature touches.

There are plans to create a peer-assistance and -review program, a schoolwide performance-based bonus plan, and a new evaluation model. There is a “priority schools” program that looks similar to that in New Haven’s. And much of these new reforms will be crafted by a series of joint union-management committees.

(The contract was bargained locally of course, but AFT national provided assistance, as it does routinely for major city contracts.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.