State review board OKs Detroit schools teacher contract

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The Financial Review Commission that oversees the Detroit Public Schools Community District unanimously voted Friday to approve teacher contract that includes raises.

The contract, approved late Wednesday by the Detroit Federal of Teachers, will cost the district $8.3 million, according to Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations Marios Demetriou.

Demetriou also said the district expected to enroll 45,511 students, but about 2,000 fewer were in classes at the start of school year.

“As of (Thursday), we have 43,618 students enrolled,” Demetriou said. “And as of today, we have 240 teacher vacancies.”

Demetriou added that he’s confident the enrollment numbers will approach their goal by the Oct. 5 Count Day.

“I think it is normal for us to be below the final count at this time,” Demetriou said. “On the first day of school we had 31,500 students and by the eighth day, we added almost 12,000 students. Every day we add more students. I am very hopeful we will get close to budget.”

Before the vote by the state oversight board, Detroit Public Schools Community District emergency manager Judge Steven Rhodes requested the commission approve the agreement with the union.

State treasurer Nick A. Khouri concurred, saying: “I support the resolution in front of us.”

Khouri noted a letter of opposition submitted Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, who called the contract disrespectful and financially irresponsible.

“The collective bargaining by (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,” Meekhof wrote.

Commissioner Tony Saunders said he was troubled with the language in Meekhof’s letter.

He said he lives in Detroit, is a graduate of Cass Technical High School and had praise for district teachers.

“That statement is not appropriate from someone in leadership in our state,” he said.

“Teachers here earn far below the market value, and I don’t understand the concept of keeping pay at the same level and then wondering why we have so many vacancies.

“I anticipated teachers would get more,” he said about the contract, which calls for raises of roughly 3 percent.

After Friday’s vote, Rhodes thanked the teachers for ratifying the contract.

“We know it was a difficult vote, and we want to express our appreciation not only for that vote, but for the years of dedicated service, working without raises and taking a 10 percent cut.”

Union interim president Ivy Bailey said in a statement after the meeting that with the commission’s approval, the new agreement will go into effect for about 2,900 teachers.

“We are pleased that our newly ratified collective bargaining agreement has been approved by the Financial Review Commission,” she said. “The approval of the agreement affirms that the new agreement, while not perfect, puts our school district on the right track, provides needed stability for students and creates a path for us to achieve even more gains for educators and students.”

Regarding teacher vacancies, Demetriou said there are not any classrooms, to his knowledge where there is no teacher standing before the students.

“Although we’re still looking for permanent teachers, we’ve already hired around 80 substitute teachers, about 70-80 certified teachers and we’re using about 80 instructional specialists who assist teachers in the classroom,” he said.

Interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather also detailed the class size numbers: In kindergarten through third grade, class size will be 25 students, fourth and fifth grades will have 30 and grades six through 12 will have 35, but that number could increase.

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