Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Teacher Protests Close Most Detroit Schools Again Tuesday
By Emma Brown
May 3 at 7:39 AM

Almost all Detroit public schools were closed again Tuesday as union leaders called on teachers not to report to work, continuing a protest over pay that forced the closure of nearly all of the city’s schools Monday.

More than 90 of the city’s roughly 100 public schools are closed Tuesday, according to the district’s Facebook page. About 46,000 students attend the city’s schools, and the second day of closures left some parents scrambling to find alternatives for their children.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is seeking to pressure state lawmakers to pass a bailout plan for the city’s troubled school system. Without action at the statehouse, the district has said it won’t be able to pay teachers over the summer. That would leave some teachers, who receive their salaries throughout the year, unpaid for their work during the school year.

“We do not work for free and therefore we do not expect you to report to school tomorrow,” Ivy Bailey, the interim president of the union, wrote to members Monday night.

Bailey said that teachers would “follow the same course of action” as they did Monday, rallying at the school district headquarters at 10 a.m.

Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) blasted the teachers, saying that their “illegal sickout strikes” were hurting children and making it more difficult to settle on a solution for the schools’ financial crisis.

“These egotistical teachers have lashed out at the children who rely on them and accomplished nothing but disrupting their students’ education,” Cotter said in a statement. “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.”

District officials apologized to families for the “inconveniences” of what it termed teacher sickouts, and they urged parents to contact state lawmakers about pending legislation meant to rescue and reform the school system.

“We remain confident that the funding issues for DPS will be resolved, and have been working daily with Lansing to move the reform legislation forward,” officials wrote on the school system’s Facebook page.

Under Michigan law, teachers may not strike, but Detroit teachers have staged multiple sickouts in recent months to protest the deplorable conditions of the city’s school buildings.

The most recent protests come in the wake of news that the financially crippled school system will run out of emergency state funding at the end of June, leaving it unable to make payroll over the summer — and leaving teachers unpaid for work they did during the school year.

Union leaders said that teachers who receive their annual salary in 26 installments risk not being paid for any work they do after April 28. They said that they are effectively being locked out of their jobs because the school system is not living up to the collective bargaining agreement, which includes terms of compensation.

The teachers’ action Monday brought criticism from the school system’s state-appointed emergency manager, Steven Rhodes, as well as from state lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

Rhodes said that the teachers’ action was not necessary and that it was counterproductive to efforts by state lawmakers to find a long-term solution to Detroit Public Schools’ fiscal crisis.

The school system would have run out of cash in early April if not for nearly $50 million in emergency funded provided by the state — enough to keep the system afloat until June 30.

The Michigan Senate passed a longer-term $715 million fix; the House is now debating that plan.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said at a conference of education reporters on Monday that the school funding crisis in Detroit — like the drinking water crisis in nearby Flint, Mich., — is a symptom of “a systematic lack of investment in high-needs communities and high-needs kids.”

He urged Snyder and state legislators to “come together quickly” to find a comprehensive solution to Detroit schools’ financial problems.

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