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DPS teachers say proposed pay hike overdue

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

The head of the Detroit’s teachers union and several members said Tuesday they are optimistic about a proposed contract agreement that will provide a long awaited pay boost.

The proposal, presented Tuesday evening to members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, calls for instructors at the top of the salary schedule to receive a 3 percent pay bonus.

Other teachers will get a one-time increase equal to the next level of the salary steps, according to tentative terms of the deal between DFT and Detroit Public Schools Community District.

“We believe they all deserve more but it’s something,” DFT interim president Ivy Bailey told reporters following a members only meeting at Second Ebenezer Church. “The goal was to get everyone a couple thousand dollars.”

The plan would give teachers at step one during the during the 2014-15 school year a bonus equal to step three for the 2016-17 school year.

If the school district receives additional local revenues exceeding $12 million for the 2016-17 school year, teachers will move ahead one full step on the salary schedule.

Increases would range from $924 a year for teachers at step one who have a bachelor’s degree, and who will make $35,683 this school year, to $8,505 a year for teachers at step nine who have a master’s or a doctorate, and who will make $56,760 to $57,360 this school year.

For special education teacher Lenore Ellery, the tentative deal is like “Christmas in September.”

“We have taken concession after concession. We have been run over,” said Ellery, who has been a special education teacher for 12 years at Jerry L. White Center High School. “Now we are seeing some raises and I am confident my union is going to obtain other benefits.”

Bailey on Tuesday said the teachers and school district will continue to negotiate about health benefits. For right now, she added, “there are no concessions and no give backs.”

In the meantime, coverage will continue under the terms of the current contract, which expired June 30. According to the DFT, the new pact would run through December 2016 and could be renegotiated by a newly elected school board that will take office in January. Otherwise, the agreement would be in force through June 2017.

The agreement restores official class-size limits, and teachers whose classes exceed the limits will receive additional compensation, according to the tentative contract.

Victoria Adams, a 25-year teacher at Fisher Magnet Lower Academy, added the contract language is the best teachers have seen in a decade.

“It’s pretty good,” she said. “A bonus and we are going to improve health care coverage. I think the membership will approve this contract. It might not have everything everyone wants, but it is an improvement.”

The two sides reached the agreement late Monday, just hours before the first day of school for the new Detroit school district, established under a $617 million rescue plan approved in June by state lawmakers.

The contract must be approved by the union’s 2,900 members. Voting will be open through Sept. 14. It also must be approved by the Detroit Financial Review Commission, which was set up during Detroit’s bankruptcy to oversee the finances of the city as well as its school district.

Bailey had said the agreement “is the culmination of a negotiations process that we knew, from the beginning, would be difficult.”

Teachers, she said, lost wages under a series of state-appointed emergency managers, including a 10 percent cut imposed in 2011 by then-emergency manager Roy Roberts.

The tentative agreement, Bailey said, 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, according to the union.

District emergency manager Steven Rhodes told The Detroit News late Tuesday teachers have sacrificed long enough.

“My staff and I worked very hard to find increased revenues and reductions in expenses to cover the full expense of the collective bargaining agreement," Rhodes said. “Our teachers have endured extreme sacrifices without pay raises for years. It is certainly time to give them a pay raise.

“I wish we could have given them more.”

If the teacher’s union approves the tentative contract it must still be acceptable to the Detroit Financial Review Commission which meets next on Sept. 16.

“We are confident we will be able to show that the district can fund the expenses from existing revenues and reductions in expenses.”

The $617 million aid package relieved the former Detroit Public Schools of nearly a half-billion dollar debt and provided $150 million in start-up funding for a new, debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Officials said a majority of the $150 million in transitional funding — $125 million — is earmarked for past obligations including payroll and vendors, with the remaining $25 million available for new programs.

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 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 in start-up cash 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’s budget is based on a projected enrollment of 45,500 students for the 2016-17 school year, a 1.8 percent decline from last year.

Rhodes on Tuesday said officials are “hopeful and optimistic” that the district will “exceed our projected enrollment numbers.”