GM, Quicken pitch in to attract Detroit teachers

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Skillman Foundation CEO Tonya Allen  addresses the crowd about the new Teach313  campaign to support the recruitment of teachers to Detroit.

A new campaign to attract teachers to Detroit will offer mortgage discounts, free OnStar — and, say organizers, a new level of respect.

Teach 313, introduced at a press conference Thursday morning, recognizes that schoolteachers are "heroes" who "prepare the successors of our city," said Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation.

Skillman and the Detroit Children's Fund are leading the public-private partnership, with focuses on recruitment, teacher retention, quality of life and professional development.

"We are committed," Allen said, "to making Detroit the best city in America for teachers."

The Detroit Public Schools Community District and charter schools in the city employ about 5,000 teachers, said Children's Fund executive director Jack Elsey. With the school year starting, the district has about 100 openings — but the annual teacher attrition rate is nearly 30 percent.

The goal of Teach 313 is to create "an environment where teachers can thrive," Elsey said, and where they will stay. "No place in the country is offering incentives at this level."

Detroit Children's Fund Executive Director Jack Elsey addresses the crowd.

As Mayor Mike Duggan noted, the Detroit Land Bank already offers 50 percent discounts to teachers who win the daily auctions for houses in the city.

Whatever the source of the home, Quicken Loans vice-chairman Bill Emerson said his company will now offer teachers a $1,000 discount on closing costs in Detroit, plus $500 cash at closing.

General Motors' contribution will be two years of free OnStar with any new car purchase or lease, said senior vice-president Tony Cervone, a service that typically costs $25 per month. An existing GM program provides educator discounts.

Other offers at include discounts on DNA tests, clothes, books, computers and even Las Vegas hotel rooms.

"I ask you to join us today," Cervone said, challenging other businesses to join the list.

Detroit school board member Deborah Hunter-Hardill, a former teacher and administrator, conceded that teaching in Detroit comes with built-in challenges. "Just the economic level," she said. "The poverty that exists."

The new initiative, she predicted, will help energize teachers to feel rewarded and welcome.

"I don't want to ever have teachers think we don't appreciate them," she said. "We just have to appreciate them more, and better."

Public school teachers in Detroit start at about $39,000, said Detroit Federation of Teachers president Ivy Bailey. After years of emergency management, she said, the top end of the pay scale — about $70,000 — lags behind many districts.

While a new contract will help, she said, "We're playing catch-up." And teaching has lost some luster everywhere.

According to the US Department of Education, the number of college students in teacher education programs fell from 719,081 in 2008-2009 to only 465,536 five years later.

"We haven't made the profession attractive in Detroit, or elsewhere," said Punita Dani Thurman, a program director at the Skillman Foundation.

Historically, Michigan has been an exporter of teachers, Thurman said. Jobs were so hard to find here that a school district she worked for in Texas sent recruiting teams to Michigan universities.

Thursday night, the Detroit district was scheduled to hold a recruiting fair.

Elsey, of the Children's Fund, said Detroit has found itself in the past with as many as a thousand openings. 

"We're competing against other cities," he said, for a shrinking pool of qualified teachers, let alone excellent ones.

He's confident that Teach 313 will help Detroit win — but if it does, won't other cities install their own programs?

Probably, he said, but that would create more teachers. "If we do that, everybody wins."

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn