State bears responsibility for teacher vacancies

Ivy Bailey

We’ve continually stated what’s best for educators is best for students. The Detroit Public Schools Community District operates best when there is a certified teacher in every classroom. Students, their families and the greater community benefit from that.

We certainly appreciate Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti’s effort to recruit educators to our school district. In fact, we’ve offered suggestions to him on how he and his administration can best attract them.

Let’s review why and how DPSCD became saddled with 425 teacher vacancies:

■ First, it’s important to note that the American Federation of Teachers has pointed out that U.S. public schools must fill 300,000 teacher vacancies each year, but a shortage is growing across the country. A national trend, teacher vacancies are affecting both urban and suburban school districts.

■ Second, the infamous Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), which was created in 2012 by Gov. Rick Snyder and our Republican-led state Legislature, removed 15 schools from the DPSCD portfolio. Before the EAA took those schools, about 11,000 students were enrolled in those buildings. Five years later, EAA’s student enrollment was less than 6,000 students. Last month, after Lansing politicos threw up their hands and walked away from the failed experiment those schools have returned to DPSCD—but without a significant number of teachers who taught students there. EAA teacher salaries are higher than some of our educators because EAA did not pay into the state retirement fund on their behalf. They also worked a longer school year.

■ Third, let’s not forget state government when it provided the so-called DPS rescue funding package last year. It didn’t fund our school district adequately. After the state house approved $617 million to fund DPSCD, a nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency report revealed that our district would need an additional $88 million to cover all its costs. Even some GOP lawmakers were concerned. “We need to make sure that there's enough money to fix the situation, there's no use in doing it half measure,” acknowledged Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge.

Once among the state’s highest compensated teachers, our wages and salaries have steadily fallen behind other Michigan school districts. With new leadership, the district now must seize the opportunity to increase student achievement.

The district must also do a better job of supporting the teachers who have been here. Part of the vacancy number are teachers who left the district this summer fed up over years of heavy-handed, state-appointed emergency managers who weren’t educators. They usurped 10 percent of our salary and sought to jail us after we stuck up for students and other support staff who were exposed to deplorable school conditions.

Dr. Vitti said last week: “We are rebuilding a district that has neglected and even disrespected role of teachers for over a decade.”

He’s right. Not only is recruiting teachers imperative so is supporting the current group of DPSCD educators who professionally carry out their jobs each day. Again, what’s best for educators is best for students.

Ivy Bailey is president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.