DPS’ Rhodes sidesteps teacher raises after state rescue

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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With funding stabilized for now by a fresh infusion of cash from Lansing, Detroit Public Schools officials painted a bright picture at its public budget update meeting Thursday.

Not everyone was happy, though, when no commitment was made when questions came up about whether teachers would receive a raise.

In the $617 million state aid package for DPS Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Tuesday is $25 million slated to be used for academic programs and other district enhancements.

When audience members at Renaissance High School asked whether teachers would see their pay increase, Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes said Thursday night’s meeting was “not the time to negotiate those raises. We’re going to leave that to the bargaining table.”

That answer didn’t satisfy some of the hundreds of attendees, who wanted more specifics on how staffers would be affected.“I think a lot of questions are not being answered,” said David Sanchez, a parent in the district who is running to become state representative for District 6. “They’re getting the runaround.”

Frustration over what they perceived as a lack of information prompted some audience members to interrupt the meeting several times.

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, who helped lead the public meeting, repeatedly asked everyone to remain civil despite their disagreements about the legislation or district plans.

“Let us hear so we know how we can move our district forward, not just shut it down because we’re angry,” she said at one point.

Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather told the audience there are plans to fill vacancies in world language positions by eventually hiring teachers from Spain.

Although the legislation allows the use of non-certified teachers, “we do not support that stance and do not have any intention of using what the law allows,” Meriweather said to applause. “ … We need the most certified, best qualified teaching our kids.”

Karlena Harrison, a DPS teacher, said she hoped there would be more transparency about finances and other issues from the district’s leaders.

“I just want DPS to tell the truth and be a trustworthy organization,” she said.

Martha Taylor, a retired DPS worker, said she was glad to learn more about what’s happening in the district. “I got clarification on the old and the new. … It was helpful.”

The Republican-led Legislature approved the state funding plan for DPS over opposition from Detroit legislators and other Democrats. It is expected to help pay off $467 million in operating debt while offering $150 million in start-up funding for a new debt-free district.

Rhodes stressed that the money will allow the district’s leaders to work toward securing a better future for the district.

“In the months and years to come, all stakeholders must work together creatively to build the district that our students deserve,” Rhodes said.

Among the announcements he and other officials made: no school facilities are expected to close in the next fiscal year; enrollment for the next school year was projected to drop about 1.8 percent from the current one, to about 45,500; class sizes could remain the same; STEM academics are expected to be added; Arabic dual language immersion is being pursued; and there will be increased prep time for K-8.

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