Detroit schools plan 10 percent pay cuts, closings

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Teachers and administrators at Detroit Public Schools will see their pay slashed by 10 percent starting Oct. 1 if state education officials approve the district’s proposal for offsetting a failed countywide tax millage.

The plan, filed with the Michigan Department of Education Wednesday, also calls for the closure of 24 schools or buildings over four years, starting with the 2015-16 academic year.

In its latest deficit elimination plan, DPS officials said they would impose the wage concession for instructional staff effective Oct. 1 to generate $13.3 million in savings.

According to budget documents detailing an amended 2015 fiscal budget, the pay reduction would save an additional $5.7 million in instructional staff support wages and $2.1 million in savings in school administration salaries, for a total savings of $21.1 million.

In his 75-page deficit elimination plan, DPS chief financial officer William Aldridge said district expenses need to be cut by $14.8 million due to Wayne County voters’ rejection of a revenue enhancement millage Aug. 5.

Besides the tax’s defeat, the district faces rising costs and falling revenue in other areas as it tries to pay down a $127 million deficit. Under the revised plan, approved by DPS Emergency Manager Jack Martin, the district would reduce its deficit to $121 million for 2014-15.

The wage cut, which needs final approval from state Superintendent Mike Flanagan, would be on top of the 10 percent pay reduction imposed on DPS employees by then-Emergency Manager Roy Roberts in 2011. Under Michigan’s Public Act 436, DPS’s emergency manager can impose a wage cut without union approval.

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said it was irresponsible for the district to include money in the 2014-15 budget that had not been secured. He vowed to fight the proposed pay cut.

“Once again, because of their inability to manage their finances, they want to shift the burden onto employees,” Johnson said. “We have taken all the cuts we are going to take.”

Johnson, who represents 4,000 DFT members, says he suspected the pay cut was coming immediately after the revenue enhancement millage failed Aug 5. He and union officials are meeting with their attorneys this week.

“There is a fight coming. I have some options available to me that I won’t go into now. I will not tip my hand,” he said.

A DPS teacher earning near the high end of the salary range makes about $66,000 after the previous 10 percent cut, Johnson said. The proposed 10 percent would reduce that salary to $59,400.

Michelle Zdrodowski, a DPS spokeswoman, said the purpose of the financial plan is to offer the most conservative projections and estimates, based on a variety of revenue and expense assumptions that are available when it is submitted.

“Now it’s our job to continue to offer the best programs possible, delivered by the most qualified educators to help retain and attract students in order to beat these projections,” she said. “Last year, we halted a 20-year trend in enrollment loss, and we are now working every day — going neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, and door to door to retain the students we enrolled and attract new ones to the district.”

The district has been under state control since March 2009, when its deficit reached as high as $327 million.

Last month, the state rejected DPS’s previous financial plan, saying it needed “realistic projections of revenues, expenses and fund balances,” including how the district would make up for the millage enhancement revenue if voters rejected the tax.

In its new five-year deficit elimination plan, which runs from 2014 through 2019, the district projects a deficit every year until 2019, when it expects to post a $7.9 million fund balance. It also expects to lose students every year and eliminate 152 teaching positions by 2019.

In the plan, DPS has reduced its projected student count for the fall from 47,692 to 47,104, a decline from last year’s enrollment of 49,000.

DPS officials did not specify which schools would be closed but the plan said a “task force” will be convened to assess options. The district, which closed no schools in 2014, had as many as 50,000 excess seats in 2012.

Detroit school board member Jonathan Kinloch said Monday afternoon he was unaware of the district’s plan and characterized it as ridiculous. Kinloch said the state should send the money to fill the gap. But he wasn’t holding his breath on it.

“How much more can we continue to ask our staff to take? Everyone says they care about education but they are playing games,” he said. “They are not serious about it.”

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