News@Noon: Are Detroit's teachers replaceable?

The Detroit News

Here's what's happening May 3, 2016:

Detroit Federation of Teachers narrow W. Grand during a rally in front of offices of the DPS that eventually turned into a march down the busy Detroit street.

On Tuesday, for the second straight day, 94 out of the 97 buildings in Detroit Public Schools were closed due to teacher sickouts. The sickouts have cost the district's 47,000 students some 1 million hours of educational instruction in the 2015-16 school year, according to Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. Tuesday morning, Cotter said it may be necessary to replace the entire staff of Detroit Public Schools to improve accountability and performance.

Is that feasible? Is it advisable? Or is it rhetoric that doesn't address the root causes behind why teachers in Michigan's largest school district keep taking off of work, which they say is the uncertainty surrounding whether teachers who get paid year-round will see any checks beyond June 30, when the district says it will have run out of money?

DPS, led by transition manager Steven Rhodes, a former federal judge who oversaw Detroit's bankruptcy, is seeking an aid package of $715 million from the legislature. But lawmakers warn that continued sickouts are not helping the district's cause.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, left, and model Kate Upton.

Justin Verlander, a closer?

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has asked girlfriend Kate Upton for her hand in marriage, and Upton has accepted. But the couple is apparently pretty good at keeping a secret. 

Upton showed off her engagement ring to the E! News network Monday while walking the runway to the 2016 MetGala in New York City.

“I’m really excited. He asked me right before season started, so we’ve been keeping it on the down low for quite a while,” Upton was quoted as telling the media outlet. “So I’m excited to finally be able to share it with the world!”

Water, water everywhere...

Despite Michigan being surrounded by 20 percent of the world's freshwater, access to that water remains a problem for the Flint community, where the water has been tainted with lead, and for some in Detroit, who have amassed water bills bigger than they can afford.

In Flint, reporter Leonard Fleming finds a community weary from its struggles. One volunteer in that community's water distribution effort, Eric Lawson, 59, shared the difficulties of that position, where no good deed goes unpunished by allegations he could or should be doing more.

“You catch a lot of verbal assaults. People not satisfied," Lawson said. "You give them five, they want 10. If you give them two, they want four. A lot of times, it would be great if we got some volunteers to come in. But we don’t see them that often.”

“It wears us down because this is a new way of life for us,” said the Rev. Kevin Thompson, pastor of St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church in Flint where Lawson passes out water donated from all over the country. “We have to get up in the morning and brush our teeth and wash our face with bottled water. And our volunteers ... they have been working a long time. It’s taxing on your body, and it’s emotional. And people are really frustrated.”

Eric Lawson, left, of Flint, loads cases of bottled water into vehicles with fellow volunteer Joe Kirkland at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church. Lawson’s seen it all: the thankful families who are thoughtful and kind and others who scowl because they don’t get the brand they like or enough.

In Detroit, payment for water already consumed is the problem.

Detroit water officials "estimate about 20,000 of [their] customers had defaulted on their payments and faced shutoffs as of 8 a.m. Monday," but spokeswoman Linda Clark of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department added that “we’re receiving payments (on overdue accounts) every minute. We’re also getting more than 250 phone calls coming in an hour," as people try to preserve access to water they can't survive without.

The water system has about 175,000 residential customers.

There is help available for people who can't handle their arrearage all at once.

Under the WRAP Fund, customers who are at 150 percent of the poverty level or below can get up to $1,000 a year in assistance in paying bills, plus up to $1,000 to fix minor plumbing issues leading to high usage.

In the “10/30/50” plan, customers pay a minimum of 10 percent of their past due amount, with the remaining amount to be paid over 12 to 24 months.