School resumes as pay promise buoys teachers
After two days of a sickout that shut most of Detroit’s public schools, the teachers union said Tuesday evening it would urge members to go back to work Wednesday after the district’s leader guaranteed they would be paid this summer.
The interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Ivy Bailey, received a letter from Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes assuring that checks would not be stopped June 30 for most teachers, as Rhodes previously warned, according to a union statement.
While some issues still needed to be addressed, Bailey told reporters after a union meeting Tuesday evening that the assurance was a partial victory. “We feel we got what we asked for,” she said.
During the meeting at the Fellowship Chapel, DFT members were told of the letter and encouraged to report to school Wednesday.
Late Tuesday, DPS said it had reached a settlement with the DFT to end “the two-day strike” and issued a statement from Rhodes pledging to pay all district employees in full.
“Teachers who have earned wages and benefits during the 2015-16 school year are legally entitled to be paid in full for those services, regardless of whether they have elected the 22 or 26 cycle pay schedule,” Rhodes said. “DPS recognizes the contractual obligation to pay teachers what they have earned and we assure all teachers that we will honor that legal obligation. This same assurance applies to all similarly situated employees of DPS.”
The district said classes would resume Wednesday and that all DPS employees were paid as scheduled Tuesday.
Pete Wilson, a social worker who has been with the district more than 25 years, said many colleagues were relieved when they heard the pay had been promised. “It felt like we were united. It was a large charge for this group.”
But not everyone was satisfied. Some wanted more to be done to address issues such as class sizes in DPS, said Julie Hamburg, a preschool teacher and union member.
“They’re just placating us,” she said after the meeting. “Our demands have been completely dismissed.”
Mayor Mike Duggan praised the agreement to end the sickout in a statement Tuesday evening.
“Detroit’s public school teachers deserved to know they are going to be paid fully for their work. Now they have that assurance,” Duggan said. “I appreciate the hard work and dedication displayed by Detroit Federation of Teachers leadership, Judge Rhodes, and the governor to resolve this issue so our children can return to class tomorrow morning.”
Tuesday’s sickout closed 94 of the 97 schools in DPS, the same number as Monday.
The virtual shutdown of Michigan’s largest school district drew national attention, including from the White House. Hours before the teachers union urged members to return to work, a spokesman said President Barack Obama wanted to see the sickout ended.
“These kids aren’t getting educated, and that’s — that is a real problem, and one that the president’s deeply concerned about,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during his daily briefing.
On Wednesday, Obama is visiting Flint to get an update on the state and federal emergency response to the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis.
DPS teachers staged the sickout after Rhodes warned over the weekend that the district would run out of money June 30 unless state lawmakers approved a long-term rescue package. That meant teachers who have chosen to spread their wages over 26 checks a year, instead of 22, would miss paychecks.
At a midday news conference in Detroit with Bailey, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the prospect of payless paydays “tantamount to wage theft.”
Weingarten said instead of being at the White House honoring teachers around the world for Teacher Appreciation Day, “I would rather be here with my brothers and sisters.”
This school year, DPS’ 47,000 students have lost more than 1 million hours of classroom instruction because of intermittent sickouts since November by teachers upset over wage and benefit cuts, poor building conditions and other issues.
Tuesday morning, DPS employees filled West Grand Boulevard in front of the Fisher Building.
Teachers carrying picket signs expressed solidarity with colleagues who spread their paychecks over 26 weeks instead of 22, and who could miss four checks over the summer. The sound of horns honking from passing cars filled the air.
The crowd chanted: “I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!”
Among them was Becky Szymaszek, one of about 2,400 DPS teachers who opted for receiving a smaller check each payday to ensure cash flow over the summer.
“I was planning on retiring this year, and I already submitted my paperwork, but now they’re saying there’s no money,” said Szymaszek of Sterling Heights, who teaches third-grade math at the Ronald Brown Academy. “I’ve already loaned the district $9,000 along with the other teachers and they also owe me for all the sick days I didn’t take, so before taxes, they owe me about $25,000, which is a good chunk of money.”
Szymaszek said she also was looking to buy a new home on the west side of the state. “But all of that is on hold now since the bottom fell out.”
At one point during the rally, several police cruisers were parked on corners and at least one Detroit Public Schools cruiser, lights flashing, slowly followed alongside the protesters.
“No pay, no work,” they chanted. “Shut it down!”
Protesters included Latrisha Burrell-Yeamen, a science teacher at Priest Elementary-Middle School who also spread her paychecks out over 26 weeks.
“I don’t have any money,” she said. “They’re still taking our money but not giving it back, and I’m getting ready to leave the country.”
Burrell-Yeaman said she has accepted a science teaching assignment in Dubai.
“I will be teaching abroad and my family depends on this money,” she said. “Am I supposed to work for free? Is anyone else going to work for free? Is Rhodes going to work for free?”
DPS school board member Tawanna Simpson was at the rally and said she supports the teachers standing up for themselves, but she questions the union’s strategy. Simpson singled out Bailey and David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, and said the local’s rank and file don’t think the rescue legislation being debated in Lansing is the answer.
“I think they’re being manipulated by the DFT membership, especially Ivy Bailey and David Hecker,” she said. “I don’t think Ms. Bailey understands she’s being manipulated. The membership is not in support of the bills being proposed.”
Steve Conn, who was ousted last year as DFT president by the local’s executive board, was among the protesters. He said the sickout should be called by another name.
“This is a strike and we have got to continue to strike to victory, which means defeating Snyder’s plan to destroy our schools,” he said.
Conn carried a stack of fliers titled: “STAY OUT to defeat the Snyder Plan and win our demands.”
The fliers continued, “Sickout, walkout and stay out to defeat the Snyder Plan and to save DPS!”
Conn and other DFT dissidents want the elected Detroit school board, sidelined under state control since March 2009, restored to full power over the district. They also want the state to cancel the district’s debt.
State lawmakers, meanwhile, continue working on legislation to bail out DPS and establish a new, debt-free district. On a party-line vote Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a Republican-backed $500 million package that omits a proposed Detroit Education Commission.
In March, the Senate passed a $715 million rescue plan that includes the education commission, which would oversee the opening and closing of Detroit schools, including charters.
Members of the GOP-controlled Legislature have been critical of the DFT-led sickouts, saying they make approval of more money for the district less likely.
In an interview Tuesday on WJR radio (760 AM), House Speaker Kevin Cotter said it may be necessary to replace the entire staff of DPS to improve accountability and performance.
The controversy drew the attention of U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., who criticized Michigan lawmakers for not acting faster to shore up DPS, according to Bridge Magazine.
“The lack of concern for people is disturbing,” King said Monday at an Education Writers Association conference in Boston, according to the Bridge report.
Staff Writers Jonathan Oosting and Chad Livengood contributed.
Detroit Public Schools buildings closed Tuesday due to teacher sickouts:
4. Ronald Brown
5. Burton International
6. Benjamin Carson
8. Cass Tech
10. Roberto Clemente
12. Cody: APL
13. Cody: DIT
14. Cody: MCH
15. Coleman Young
16. Communication Media & Arts
17. Davis Aerospace
18. Detroit Collegiate Prep
19. Detroit International Academy
20. Detroit School of Arts
25. Fisher Lower
26. Fisher Upper
27. Golightly CTC
29. Greenfield Union
31. Jerry L. White
36. Thurgood Marshall
42. Osborn Evergreen
43. Osborn MST
44. Osborn Prep
45. Palmer Park
48. Randolph High/CTC
50. Robeson/Malcolm X
52. West Side Academy
53. Charles Wright Academy
54. Ann Arbor Trail
58. Crockett CTC
60. Western International
63. Detroit Lions
64. Moses Field
65. Marcus Garvey
66. Golightly Education Center
67. A.L. Holmes
70. Turning Point Academy
71. Academy of Americas
73. Charles Drew Transition Center
75. Frederick Douglass
76. Duke Ellington
77. J.R. King
82. MLK High School
84. East English Village
88. Mark Twain
94. Fleming Early Childhood
Source: Detroit Public Schools