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Sarah Niemi

Hey boss, I'm sick

Detroit schools are in financial shambles as the city can't make payroll, teachers organize mass sickout

Brian Young's picture
May 02, 2016

Teacher Appreciation week is off to a rocky start in Detroit with 94 of the city’s 97 schools closed on Monday.  As UCOMM Blog previously reported, teachers have been holding sickouts and protests about the conditions of the schools.  Now the school systems Transition Manager is saying that the district will be unable to pay teachers this summer without increased money from the state.

Problems began when DPS Transition Manager Judge Steven Rhodes told the teachers union on Saturday, April 30th, that the school district would be shut down after June 30th unless the state came through with more funding.  This would mean that teachers in the district would not be paid for summer school and if the state does not get their act together could prevent the school district from opening next year. 

The last infusion of money from the state came in March when the legislature approved a $48.7 Million stopgap funding.  The Governor has pushed the legislature to enact a $720 million restructuring plan that would split the district in two, one to educate students and one to pay down the districts debt.  DPS has been under state control since 2009 and has racked up $515 Million operating debt during that time. 

The Detroit Teachers Union is especially angry since the $48.7 million was supposed to cover payments to teachers who signed up for year around pay.  In an email to their members, that was reported in the Detroit Free Press,

“When it first came to our attention in March that DPS would not have enough cash to make payroll through the end of the school year, we asked and were told that the $48.7 million in supplemental funding requested by the district administration would include money necessary to pay school employees who elected to have their pay spread over 26 pay periods for the year. We just received information that this is not the case and we are outraged.”

After receiving the news, the teachers decided to organize the sickout and hold a massive rally outside of the Fisher Building in Detroit.  At the rally, teachers called for an audit of DPS asking “Where did the money go?”

In response to the sickout Speaker Kevin Cotter, who has held up a long term DPS funding plan in hopes that private interests would pay down the debt, called the move a “cheap political stunt.”  Cotter made nearly $96,000 last year as the Speaker. The average salary for a DPS teacher is $53,000. The senate has already passed Governor Snyder’s long term financing plan, but the House has not yet voted on it.

While strikes are illegal in Michigan, the union plans to hold a meeting on Tuesday May 3rd, about whether to “authorize a major collective action.” It is unclear if that will mean more sickouts or if that will mean a full strike by the teachers.

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