Detroit teachers union OKs new contract

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The next hurdle for the Detroit Federation of Teacher’s recently ratified contract is to make it through Friday’s Financial Review Commission.

Detroit’s interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather said Thursday the contract approval is “great news” and she’s hopeful the commission will sign off on it.

“I’m very confident that every member will review the documentation and make a decision they feel is in the best interest of the district,” Meriweather, who has a seat on the commission, said after an appearance Thursday at the annual Detroit Homecoming.

The contract agreement, she said, was the product of many hours of negotiation and “truthfully” is the “best offer.”

The contract was approved by the union’s 2,900 teachers Wednesday night.

But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof is anything but pleased with the contract, calling it disrespectful and financially irresponsible.

“The collective bargaining by (emergency manager Steven Rhodes) disrespects the return to local control anticipated by the recent legislation, and at this time — prior to the next pupil count day of the academic year — it is financially irresponsible for this commission to approve the contract.

“Section 12b of 2016 PA 192 specifically prohibits the transition manager from negotiating or entering into any collective bargaining agreement that would bind the elected school board of the new community district.”

He said in his statement that the term of the contract would effectively run until June 30, 2017, after the newly elected board takes office.

“In this case, the transition manager is attempting to avoid this collective bargaining restriction through a technical loophole, arguing that the new school board can void the agreement if it desires. However, that approach disrespects the return to local control by binding the new school board unless it takes affirmative action to void the contract.”

Detroit Federal of Teachers leaders said outside Cooke S.T.E.M. Academy in the Rosedale Park neighborhood the contract is not the best, but is a step in the right direction.

“It definitely is not what teachers deserve,” interim union president Ivy Bailey said.

Bailey and AFT Michigan President David Hecker said that under the contract every teacher will receive some extra money.

“If you are at the top step, which I think is two-thirds of teachers, you will get a 3 percent bonus before the holidays in December,” Bailey said.

Hecker added: “The other one-third of teachers on steps, theoretically, that have been frozen for seven years, ... will get a paycheck equal to the next step. But no teacher loses.”

There also will be bonuses for instructors in critical shortage areas, Bailey said, including speech pathology, science and math, and also for teachers rated highly effective among other areas.

Union executive vice president Terrence Martin said another major point is leveling class sizes.

“What this new contract does, is it produces a monetary penalty to the district if they don’t level classes, and teachers will be paid if they are teaching over the class size,” said Martin.

According to the union, 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 last through June 2017.

The deal returns control of the district to residents following years of state control by restoring control to a new school board, to be elected in November.

A $617 million rescue package passed by state lawmakers in June relieved the former Detroit Public Schools of nearly a half-billion dollar debt and provided $150 million in start-up funding for the debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The Financial Review Commission was set up during Detroit’s bankruptcy to oversee the finances of the city as well as its school district.

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Steven Rhodes said Thursday he is pleased the contract has been ratified.

“I’d like to commend the DFT leadership team for their commitment to good faith bargaining. This is another key indicator that our new district, Detroit Public Schools Community District, is moving in the right direction and one step closer to restoring local control to the citizens of Detroit,” he said.

Special education teacher Marietta Elliott said she is trying to remain optimistic.

“I won’t say I’m disappointed, because I like to take things for that they are,” said Elliott, who teaches at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy. “We can’t change the decision made but I am trying to remain as optimistic as possible.”

Lakia Wilson, a union representative at Spain Elementary School, said she is encouraged.

“I feel the ratified contract is a step in the right direction,” Wilson said. “Teachers have taken concessions for over 10 years. We’re not where we were, but I think we’re on our way.”

Teacher Steve Conn is among those unsatisfied with the contract.

“Over 1,000 teachers, 40 percent, voted no for very good reason,” said the elected-but-ousted union president. “We know we won’t be able to stop the attacks on our schools, and win real improvements for ourselves and our students, until we resume the fight we began with last year’s sickouts and marches.”

East English Village Academy High School teacher Nicole Conaway also expressed frustration with the DFT ratified contract.

“This shows many members understand that this deal was pushed to prevent a strike at the start of school,” she said. “We are determined to continue organizing, elect new DFT officers and leading the movement to fight for Detroit teachers and students.”

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Staff Writer Christine Ferretti and Mark Hicks contributed.