DPS teachers getting way to report problems, state says

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit Public Schools has set up a process for teachers to report academic and building problems to be addressed, state and district officials said Friday.

In the wake of teacher sickouts and health and safety issues reported at some DPS schools, state Superintendent Brian Whiston met Friday with DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley and other district officials.

According to Whiston, teachers are being encouraged to report problems to principals, who will forward the information to the district’s upper administration, which will decide “if it is something the district can remedy immediately, or whether it needs a longer-term plan.”

DPS principals began asking for teacher feedback this week, district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said. “The process began on Wednesday in the weekly staff meeting held at each school, where teacher concerns were solicited,” she said.

District teachers staged sickouts this week to protest health and safety hazards in some school buildings, among other grievances. The mass teacher absences forced the district to close 64 schools Monday, 24 on Tuesday and five on Wednesday.

DPS, which spends more than 40 percent of its per-pupil state aid on debt service, needs financial help from state lawmakers to improve the education of Detroit children, Whiston said.

“We all need to come together on this for a quick and appropriate solution. When we deal with the district’s debt, we can deal with the academics,” he said.

In a statement, Earley called Friday’s meeting with Whiston “very productive.”

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, applauded Whiston for “prioritizing Detroit.”

“We look forward to positive outcomes from their meeting,” he said. “They are desperately needed and needed now.”

Ivy Bailey, the DFT’s interim president, reacted cautiously. “All I’m going to say at this time is ‘Action speaks louder than words and it breeds trust,’ ” she said in a statement.

The problems at DPS, including this week’s sickouts, got the attention of a national credit rating agency. Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Thursday that the sickouts “highlight the bleak financial condition of the district, as well as its poor facilities and low workforce morale.”

Moody’s said the lack of classroom funding could lead more students to leave DPS, where enrollment has declined for years. That would worsen its finances.

The rating agency also said the sickouts drew more attention to Gov. Rick Snyder’s $715 million plan to create a new, debt-free Detroit school district. Legislation to enact parts of the governor’s plan was introduced Thursday, something Moody’s said would help the district.

Moody’s rating for DPS is Caa1 negative. Anything below Baa3 is considered too risky to be a guaranteed investment.