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DFT pressures Legislature for funding, local control

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit Public Schools’ future is at a critical juncture to survive and thrive and it’s essential to look to stabilize the schools over the long haul, officials from the Detroit Federation of Teachers said Monday.

“We have to build and get a long-term funding solution,” said Terrence Martin, DFT executive vice president. “We want our school district to be a world-class school district. And we believe that is possible.”

Martin made the comments to the media as lawmakers are working on emergency aid to help keep open the state’s largest district, which will run out of money next month, possibly leading to payless paydays and closed schools.

Both houses of the Legislature are considering bills to address $515 million in school debt that has led to the financial crisis; the Senate package also includes $200 million for a new, debt-free school district. But DFT officials are working in the Capitol and the community to get support not only for future funding of the district but also a return of local control and long-term commitment for the students.

The union has been working to enlist support through a community campaign it has built with school officials, parents and citizens that has reached thousands of people. Among the strategies it has employed include phone banks to lawmakers, contacts to leaders inside and outside of Michigan, neighborhood walks, outreach at churches, community cards and a video to help supporters to get behind the movement to save Detroit Public Schools.

“Every action that we are doing, whether it’s a community person signing a card or whether we push this video out ... the legislators are hearing from the people of Detroit, they are hearing not just from the teachers but from everyone saying, ‘This is what we want,’ ” said Ann Mitchell, DFT administrator. “People are ready to stand with us.”

Union officials also spoke about the need for a unified voice, especially as some are calling for sickouts in schools that at one time were helpful in calling attention to the dire needs of the schools but is now becoming disruptive.

“It is not productive and does not get us to the goal line,” Martin said.

A rally was held shortly after the union’s news conference but Mitchell said it was planned by a small and vocal minority who planned a sickout over a week ago. Only slightly more than a dozen teachers called in sick on Monday and no schools were closed.

“We all want what’s best for the students here in Detroit,” Martin said. “We’re better together than apart.”

DPS Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather thanked staff for making sure no students at Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School were affected by the limited sickout.

“While some teachers did choose to call in sick today, that clearly was not the intention of the majority, as the rest of the District reported for work as normal,” Meriweather said in a statement. “We appreciate teacher support as we work to improve the educational outcomes for all DPS students.”

Detroit schools do more with less, but there is more to be done after the financial crisis is addressed, Martin added

“After the financial situation is settled, we will build toward productive negotiations with the district that will help make sure the students teachers and community get the tools and resources that they need,” Martin said.

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2024