Detroit teachers tentative contract faces hurdle

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Passage of a tentative three-year contract reached by the Detroit Public Schools Community District and the teachers union must clear two hurdles — acceptance by teachers and by the Detroit Financial Review Commission, the union’s president said Sunday.

The contract includes raises of 3 percent in its first year, 4 percent in the second year, and an opportunity to renegotiate in the third year.

“I think it’s a good deal,” said Ivy Bailey president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, but she acknowledged that at an informational session Friday evening on the agreement, “there were a lot of mixed feelings” among teachers.

Of the 3,000 or so teachers the contract would cover, about 2,000 are dues-paying members, Bailey said. Ballots will be sent out Wednesday and must be returned and postmarked by July 19. The ballots will be reviewed by the American Arbitration Association on July 27, and members will be able to witness the review in real-time if they choose, Bailey said. If teachers reject the agreement both sides will resume negotiations.

The increases would become effective in January of each school year, Bailey said. Both sides will return to the bargaining table to set terms for the third year, but Bailey said that even if a better deal isn’t reached, teachers at least wouldn’t be losing any money relative to the second year.

Steve Conn, a former DFT president, is among those who feel the raises in the tentative deal are too modest. Conn said Sunday he wants to be made whole on the 10 percent salary cut from 2011.

On the restoration of those lost funds, Bailey said: “We tried, but the money isn’t there. We’re never going to get what we deserve to get.”

“I made more in 1997 than I do today,” said Conn, 59, who has been teaching in the district for 32 years and now teaches math at Western International High School. “We still won’t be able to attract and hold teachers” if the tentative agreement is passed as-is.

And while Conn argues that the timing of the contract announcement — right before the Fourth of July holiday — was an attempt to sneak the deal through with minimum scrutiny, Bailey said that the two weeks between when ballots are sent out and when they must be postmarked and returned offers “more than enough time to read, call us up and get it back” in time for votes to be counted.

Bailey said three informational sessions will be offered for teachers covered by he contract the contract who are not dues-paying union members.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Bailey said of the misgivings some teachers may have. “We have to move forward.”

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti in a statement said “the agreement reflects a practical increase in teacher salaries after years of neglect for teachers by a broken emergency manager leadership structure,” and called the tentative deal “the first step in restoring faith with our teachers to eventually provide them with the salaries they deserve.”

Vitti agreed with Conn and Bailey that teachers deserve better.

“In no way does this agreement reflect what Detroit teachers deserve. We commit to prioritizing larger increases in teacher pay as we share the responsibility to increase the district's enrollment, which will increase revenue,” Vitti said.

Conn did not rule out the idea of resuming teacher sickouts in the 2017-18 school year. Conn organized several sickouts during the 2015-16 school year.

“There could well be strikes,” Conn said. “It’s the only thing that will provide enough of a positive change that the young people of Detroit will have a school system. The one chance we have is rebellion by the teachers. When teachers have rebelled, they’ve been more successful than otherwise.”

But Bailey, a graduate of Cass Technical High School’s class of 1975, said she sees the contract as the start of a “new day” in Detroit, what with the first voter-chosen school board and first board-chosen superintendent in years.

“In that third year, we’re going to tell (the distirct): You’ve been talking the talk; now it’s time to walk the walk,” Bailey said. “I take people for who they show me they are. So far, (Vitti’s) been true to his word, so I’m believing in that third year...he is going to do the right thing, and that is to increase those salaries.”