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Teaching Profession

Detroit Schools Open Following 10-Day Teachers’ Strike

By Ann Bradley — September 15, 1999 3 min read

Schools opened in Detroit last week after members of the teachers’ union approved a tentative agreement ending a 10-day strike.

More than 8,000 teachers crowded into the city’s convention center Sept. 8 to approve the deal, which allowed schools to open the next day for the district’s 177,000 students.

The three-year settlement, which union members still must ratify, includes 2 percent salary increases for teachers still progressing through the salary schedule.

Veteran teachers who have reached the maximum pay will receive larger raises, about 4 percent, to make their salaries more competitive with those in surrounding districts.

Reducing Class Sizes

The district also promised to reduce class sizes, a make- or-break issue for many teachers frustrated by years of overcrowded elementary classrooms. During the 2000-01 school year, the district will reduce class sizes to 17 students in 22 schools, with similar reductions in 22 more schools the following year.

John Elliott, the president of the 11,500-member Detroit Federation of Teachers, said he was relieved to see the strike end and pledged to work with the district’s new administration on reform initiatives.

“This has been a tense time,” said Mr. Elliott, whose members voted to strike Aug. 30 against his advice. “As long as I have something to say about it, this strike was not about reform. It was an attempt [by district officials] to weaken and reduce the effectiveness of the teachers’ union.”

‘Maintain Momentum’

David Adamany, the interim chief executive officer of the Detroit schools, said in a statement that the return to work would allow the system to “maintain the momentum that was developed for improvements in the school system.”

The strike came as a blow to the school board installed last spring by Mayor Dennis Archer, who was given control of the city’s schools by the Michigan legislature.

The new school leaders had sought to institute some type of merit pay for teachers, a proposal they were forced to drop in negotiations.

Failing schools can be closed, however, with safeguards for teachers’ jobs and transfer rights, according to terms of the new accord.

Sick-Day Restrictions

In addition, the district won its battle to put restrictions on the use of sick days, with a policy that will withhold raises from teachers who miss more than eight days of work, except in certain circumstances.

Veteran teachers who have reached the top of the pay scale will be able to earn more money with the addition of four $3,000 “steps” on the salary schedule.

But experienced teachers will have to meet performance criteria to advance, including satisfactory ratings, participation in professional-development activities, compliance with attendance criteria, attainment of credits toward advanced degrees in their specialties, and certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The agreement also requires new hires, and teachers who have just begun further coursework, to take classes in their areas of teaching expertise in order to get salary credit.

The strike took Mr. Elliott, who has run the union for 18 years, by surprise when just 3,000 of the union’s approximately 8,000 teacher members showed up during the last week of August to vote on a 10-day contract extension.

Many of those who did turn out to vote, Mr. Elliott said, were his political opponents and “internal professional agitators” who generated spontaneous support for a strike.

“We’re still willing to work with the school administration on reform initiatives,” he added.

In other parts of the nation, teachers were on strike in one Rhode Island and five Pennsylvania districts, according to the National Education Association.

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