DFT reaches tentative contract deal with DPS

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit teachers and schools officials agreed to a tentative contract late Monday, just hours before the first day of school for the new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Details of the contract were not expected to be released until voting starts Tuesday by the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ 2,900 members, who must ratify the proposed agreement. It must also be approved by the Financial Review Commission, which was set up during Detroit’s bankruptcy to oversee the finances of the city as well as its school district.

DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey said the agreement “is the culmination of a negotiations process that we knew, from the beginning, would be difficult.” Bailey said the pact restores some cuts to teachers over more than a decade of control by state-appointed emergency financial managers. Those losses included a $10,000 across-the-board pay cut followed by another 10 percent cut a few years later.

Bailey wouldn’t say how much, if any, of those cuts are restored until teachers have a chance to review the proposal.

“A lot of things that were removed from our contract, we were able to restore some of those things,” Bailey said late Monday. “The last contract we had was imposed on us by (former emergency manager) Roy Roberts.”

Though she declined to share major points of the contract, Bailey said it includes language that allows teachers at each school to be involved in setting a discipline policy. At present, some schools lack protocols for enforcing discipline, creating confusion for teachers and parents.

“Of course,”she said in a statement Monday, “it comes with the territory — given the nature of the negotiations process — we didn’t get everything we wanted. But I’m pleased to announce that we succeeded in restoring some favorable provisions from previous contracts that had been taken away.”

Kim Mitchell, a preschool teacher at Roberto Clemente Academy in southwest Detroit, said she was excited about a pact yet anxious to know the details. The deal will be unveiled at an informational meeting for union members after school Tuesday.

“It’s a stress coming back to work not knowing if you have a ratified contract,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people will be more at ease on Wednesday knowing what is in the tentative contract.

“We’ve given up so much for so long. We’ve only been asking to get back to where we were.”

The previous contract expired June 30.

District emergency manager Steven Rhodes said in a written statement: “We are pleased that the summer-long negotiations have resulted in a tentative agreement prior to students returning to school.

“Detroit Public Schools Community District looks forward to a successful start of the school year as we begin this new chapter in Detroit public education in providing the best educational opportunities we can for our students,” Rhodes said.

Legislators in June passed a $617 million aid package that relieved the former Detroit Public Schools of nearly a half-billion dollar debt and provided $150 million in start-up funding for the new, debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District. The deal returns control of the district to residents following years of state control. But hopes for the new district were overshadowed during the summer by federal charges against more than a dozen school principals in a kickback and bribery scheme involving a school vendor.

The restructuring by the Legislature allows the new district to add academic programs and allowed officials to address a backlog of deferred maintenance for school buildings. The plan also calls for restoring control to a new school board, to be elected in November.

But community leaders and teachers expressed concern that the $150 million budget leaves little for school supplies and other needs. The district gets $7,434 in state aid per pupil, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

The district projects 45,500 students for the 2016-17 school year, a 1.8 percent decline from last year.

“This agreement recognizes and values the voice and experience of Detroit’s educators,” Bailey said. “While not perfect, this deal turns the page and provides a new pathway for the district and our union to do right by the students, families and city of Detroit.

“Beyond economic gains for members, this deal will restore parents’ confidence in our schools and will help ensure that our students get the high-quality public education they deserve.”

In addition to monetary losses, Detroit teachers said they felt disrespected by emergency managers who focused more on the bottom line than on supporting teachers’ educational mission.

The agreement includes at least one symbolic gesture of respect: Eliminating a rule requiring teachers to show up 15 minutes before the start of class.

“Most teachers come an hour before work, and they stay two or three hours later,” Bailey said. “It was done to be punitive.

“People felt disrespected because it wasn’t necessary.”