Teaching Profession

Detroit Teachers, District Strike Deal to Open Schools

By Vaishali Honawar — September 19, 2006 3 min read
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After 16 days on the picket lines, teachers in Detroit returned to their schools at the end of last week, ending a period of intense uncertainty and chaos for the already-troubled district.

Schools reopened Sept. 14, after thousands of teachers belonging to the 9,500-member Detroit Federation of Teachers voted to accept a three-year contract hammered out following days of negotiations between union leaders and school officials.

Under the deal, teachers will accept a pay freeze in the first year, but will receive a 1 percent raise in the second and a 2.5 percent hike in the third year of the contract. Also, veteran teachers will now start paying 10 percent of their health- insurance costs—a provision that was earlier required only of those hired after 1992.

Teachers will also lose three days’ pay for three preparation days that were canceled because of the strike.

The district earlier had asked teachers to accept a 5.5 percent pay cut over a two-year contract, while the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, sought a salary increase of 5 percent for each year of a three-year contract.

Public schools opened this year with a $105 million shortfall in the district’s $1.4 billion budget, and school officials hoped to recover $88 million by asking teachers to take the pay cut.

As a result of the agreement, the district will need to find another $60 million, said spokesman Lekan Oguntoyinbo, adding that it would likely come from across-the-board cuts.

The end of the strike came as a relief to the 120,000-student district, which is mired in financial and academic problems. (“Walkout Seen as Further Blow to Dwindling District,” Sept. 13, 2006 and “Detroit Schools Struggle to Stem Student Loss,” July 12, 2006.)

As thousands of teachers picketed outside schools, starting Aug. 28, frustrated parents searched for options in the form of charter schools and seats in neighboring districts for their children. School officials say the strike may have prompted hundreds, if not thousands, of students to move on to those other schools, further jeopardizing the financial future of the Detroit district. State aid is provided on the basis of the number of students in the schools.

Mr. Oguntoyinbo said it could be another month before an enrollment count is taken that will show whether the district has lost students.

“We are hopeful that the damage is not so severe, and one of the things we’re counting on is that charters don’t offer the quality of education we offer,” he said.

‘Love Fest’

At a joint news conference last week with William F. Coleman III, the superintendent of the Detroit public schools, and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to announce the deal, union President Janna Garrison said that while “the package was not everything we hoped it would be, it is enough for us to get back to work.”

“The district wanted a 20 percent cut, a 15 percent cut, a 10 percent cut, a 5 percent cut, a 1 percent cut, a 0.5 percent cut in our pay, but we ended up with a zero percent cut,” Ms. Garrison said.

“This is a great day for the city of Detroit. It is a great day for the Detroit public schools system. Above all, it is a great day for our children,” Superintendent Coleman said.

At the press conference, which one speaker described as a “love fest,” there was no exhibition of the rancor and bitterness that marked days of court-ordered negotiations between the two sides.

On Sept. 5, the first day of school, classes opened for just half a day, but school officials were forced to cancel them after only 27,000 students showed up.

Teachers refused to return to school even after a Wayne County Circuit Court judge ordered them to do so Sept. 8, under a Michigan law that says strikes by public employees are illegal. The continued impasse led Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, to call for a fact-finder to intervene.

The agreement was finally reached Sept. 12, after an all-night bargaining session that ended at 6:30 a.m. Union officials said the breakthrough came after the mayor joined the talks the previous evening.

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2006 edition of Education Week as Detroit Teachers, District Strike Deal to Open Schools

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