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Detroit teachers call for competitive pay, better school conditions

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The teachers union for the city's school district is urging the administration to hear concerns from staff members ahead of three-year contract negotiations.

The union hopes to reach a tentative agreement that includes competitive pay raises, better building conditions and work environments to stop teachers from leaving for other school districts, said Terrence Martin, union president, on Saturday. 

"As our locals head into contract bargaining this year, members are determined to secure investments that ensure Detroit students truly have access to the schools of which they deserve," Martin said.

Donna Jackson, left, president of Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals, Local 2350, listens to Terrance Martin, president of Detroit Federation of Teachers Local 231, speak about contract negotiations in Detroit with Stephanie Carreker, president of Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, Local 4168.

First-year teachers make around $38,000 and see about a $1,000 increase each year, maxing out at 15 years. The amount is not on par with surrounding districts, Martin said.

"At the max, it's significantly less than what you will see in neighboring school districts," he said, noting not all staff are on the same annual compensation package.

New hires for paraprofessionals are near minimum wage, said Donna Jackson, president of the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals.

"It's not an attractive salary to try to feed your families, pay for health care, trying to pay for the bills and a lot of that is being subtracted out," Jackson said. "We need to lift wages of the food service industry into the Fight for $15 because we need to have the adequate staff to serve our students. 

"Schools are anchors in the neighborhoods, but many of their conditions are far too unacceptable," she said.

Donna Jackson, left, president of Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals, Local 2350, listens to Terrance Martin, president of Detroit Federation of Teachers Local 231, Stephanie Carreker, president of Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, Local 4168, and Lakia Wilson, executive vice-president of  Detroit Federation of Teachers, Local 231, gathered to speak about contract negotiations for Detroit Public Schools.

The American Federation of Teachers Detroit consists of three union locals that represent nearly 6,000 employees of Detroit Public Schools Community District, including the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees and Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals.

It's the first time the three unions, which have separate three-year contracts with the district, are joining  at the . The contracts expire on June 30.

"I think coming to the table together adds strength," Jackson said. "Because it brings our membership together and shows the district we can no longer separately bargain apart when we have common issues. ... It still goes back to that classroom, the work in the school, we are all a piece of the process. We can't work separately anymore."

Darnese Wilkinson, center, of the executive board of the Detroit Federation of Teachers,  listens to union officials discuss contract negotiations.

The district did not immediately respond Saturday to comment on negotiations.

Martin said the district has the ability to distribute more funding because it is more financially stable compared to years prior, with a nearly $200 million budget.

"There's funding there. ... Now obviously, there are some things that need to happen in Lansing to increase the school funding. We are not funded the way we should, both the district and unions understand that. We are advocating for a statewide funding system that makes sense for Detroit and schoolchildren all over the state.

"But we can't any longer use that as an excuse to do what's right for teachers in this district," he said. "It's important to renew the Wayne County Enhancement millage in November."

There are non-economic improvements to be made, including addressing culture and climate within the schools, union officials said.

"There's a laundry list of issues with principals who do not treat us with the respect and value the service that we do," Martin said.

Lakia Wilson, vice president of AFT Detroit, said students are the priority, but can't be served by professionals who aren't valued.

"Secretaries and the clerical (staff), who move records across the districts and print report cards, answer telephones, are the first face when you walk into the school, and the teacher's assistants who are in the classroom — and just in case the teacher's absent may be put on the spot and become the teacher for that day — they're not compensated like a teacher is," Wilson said. "There's just not enough of us and we should literally be worth our weight in gold."

Stephanie Carreker, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, said: "Our members, students, communities are worthy of so much more."

"We are key to a successful learning community for our students. Oversized classes, sub-par working conditions and poor support from Lansing and at times, DPSCD administration, has led to the difficulty and retainment of school staff. We are all professionals who go above and beyond what are job calls for. We want to be compensated as such."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_