Editorial: Get back to class, DPS teachers
Teachers who have closed nearly all Detroit Public Schools on Monday and Tuesday may believe they are on a worthy crusade. But the districtwide illegal strikes have harmed the 46,000 students who attend DPS. Detroit teachers need to stay in class.
The strikes come at a strategic moment in the discussions in Lansing over how to send a $700 million funding package to the district. Teachers are hoping their rebellion will force reluctant lawmakers to action, but it may have the opposite effect.
DPS Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes sparked the strikes — referred to as “sickouts” because teachers called in sick — over the weekend when he informed the Detroit Federation of Teachers that paychecks would end as of June 30 when the district runs out of money. That struck fear in the hearts of many teachers, as a significant number select to receive their checks year-round.
No one should have to work without getting paid, but shutting out students who desperately need to be in school isn’t the way for teachers to make their case. DPS remains the worst urban district in the country, and missed instruction time won’t raise test scores.
In addition, when teachers skip school, parents are faced with the challenge of last-minute childcare decisions. Students also lose the meals they get at school. Many Detroit children eat most of their meals at school.
Teachers must consider that.
The strikes follow other negative revelations about the district. The state is investigating DPS over why it received up to $30 million in U.S. Department of Education reimbursements for pensions of grant-funded employees, but failed to send the money to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, which already struggles with chronic underfunding.
In an April report to state Treasurer Nick Khouri, Rhodes labeled this section “Not So Good Things Happening at DPS.”
Striking teachers is also not so good. Rhodes has scolded teachers for the strikes, but he is also encouraging lawmakers to act quickly on the DPS legislation that would keep the district afloat.
The Senate passed its $715 million bailout in March. The House stalled on debating its DPS package until Tuesday. That chamber has reduced the amount it wants to offer the district to $500 million. And the House is contemplating other measures, including limits on collective bargaining, a move away from pensions and tougher strike penalties. Given the latest misbehavior by Detroit teachers, expect those measures to stay.
House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, has come down hard on the latest strikes — just as he did following a similar sickout in January. He says the strikes have cost Detroit students 1 million hours of instruction this year.
“The Detroit Federation of Teachers is once again putting the wants of adults ahead of the needs of children,” Cotter said in a statement. “Their selfish and misguided plea for attention only makes it harder for us to enact a rescue plan and makes it harder for Detroit’s youngest residents to get ahead and build a future for themselves.”
It’s disappointing to see Ivy Bailey, interim president of the DFT, spearheading these strikes. She’s said the strikes will continue until teachers are assured they will be fully paid. Bailey took office last year after she led an effort to oust former president Steve Conn. She had said she didn’t like his association with the group By Any Means Necessary and the fact he turned to protests and strikes before conversations.
Now Bailey is using Conn’s playbook.
Lawmakers should take this opportunity to toughen strike penalties for public school teachers. Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, has bills on the Senate floor that would do that and the full chamber should take them up.
Striking may garner Detroit teachers attention. But it’s bad for students, and it hurts the district’s chances of a swift legislative solution.