White House wants end to Detroit teacher sickout

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

President Barack Obama wants to see Detroit Public Schools and its teachers union “resolve their differences” and end a sickout that has closed most of the district’s 97 schools the past two days, his spokesman said Tuesday.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked Tuesday whether the Obama administration supports the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ organized sickouts.

“Obviously, when you have, you know, now two days in a row where schoolkids in Detroit are not going to school, that’s a significant problem,” Earnest told reporters during his daily briefing.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the American Federation of Teachers said in a statement that it was encouraging members to report to work Wednesday.

The president’s spokesman said the sickouts are harmful to Detroit’s economy and suggested the lack of classes in city schools could put some children in danger.

“It raises some public safety issues,” Earnest said. “There are some parents who may not be able to stay home with their kids, and those kids are now operating — are moving around unsupervised.”

“To say nothing of the most important thing, which is these kids aren’t getting educated, and that’s — that is a real problem, and one that the president’s deeply concerned about.”

Earnest made the comments the day before Obama will arrive in Flint to get an update on the state and federal emergency response to the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

Detroit teachers organized the mass sickouts Monday and Tuesday after DPS Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes informed the union’s interim president the district could not make payroll after June 30 when $48.7 million in emergency state aid runs out.

DFT leaders contend they were promised full pay for this school year as part of the emergency aid Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature approved in March. More than 2,400 Detroit teachers spread their paychecks over 26 pay periods instead of 22 periods and could miss summer paychecks if the district can’t make payroll.

The teachers union said late Tuesday it had received assurances from Rhodes that paychecks would continue to be issued, leading it to urge an end to the sickout.

U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. has been involved in trying to help facilitate a resolution to the matter, Earnest said.

“The administration’s prepared to do whatever we can to encourage both sides to come to an agreement that can put teachers and most importantly students back in the classroom,” Earnest said. “I think what we’re urging both teachers and local officials to do is to resolve their differences so that kids can get back to school.”

On Monday, King criticized Michigan lawmakers for not acting faster to shore up DPS, according to Bridge Magazine.

“The lack of concern for people is disturbing,” King said Monday at an Education Writers Association conference in Boston, according to the Bridge report.


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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Detroit News Staff Writer Keith Laing contributed.