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Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Does Detroit even care about school kids?

New crappy proposed laws in Michigan would strip educators of advocacy for student health in a Hitler styled approach

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 03, 2016

Recently, educators in Detroit have been holding sickouts to protest the deplorable conditions in the public schools.  Roofs are leaking, mold and dead rats have been found, some schools lack heat in the middle of the winter, and teachers say the situation is like teaching in a third world school.  The school district is run by the state and a series of failed emergency managers including Darnell Earley who was the emergency manager of Flint who made the ill-fated decision to switch the city’s water to the lead poisoned Flint River in a “cost saving” move.

About 7 years ago, Michigan passed a controversial new law that allowed the state to take over a government that was in financial distress and put in an emergency manager.  These managers are supposed to come in, cut costs and turn the government around, much like an efficiency consultant like in the movies Fred Claus and Office Space.  In the case of the Detroit Public Schools, the school system has seen emergency managers do just the opposite and increase the districts debt to $3.5 Billion, much of which is short term debt that has been accumulated over the last 7 years.  According to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a third of the money that is coming into the school district is going to service the districts debt.  As the district services the debt, schools continue to fall apart. 

What are educators to do when they don’t have the most basic resource to teach students, aka classroom?  Teachers in Detroit felt that a sickout was the way to go.  Since strikes for public employees are illegal in Michigan, the sickout was the only job action that the teachers could take.  So far the protests have resulted in Emergency Manager Darnell Earley announcing that he will step down at the end of the month, but that will not fix the crumbling schools or get the district out of the paralyzing debt that the emergency managers have run up. 

Now, the Michigan legislature is trying to take away the teachers right to protest these deplorable conditions.  Michigan has already become a Right to Work for less state for public employees and a new proposed law would allow the union to be decertified for 5 years. The new proposed law would also fine/suspend teachers for refusing to work in unsafe conditions. 

According to the Detroit News “New provisions added in committee would temporarily freeze union dues collection and bar the incumbent bargaining unit from representing teachers for five years in a district where a strike occurred.”  The new bill would also require the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to rule in just 2 days whether or not a job action constituted an illegal strike.  Currently they have 60 days to rule, a clear attack on teacher’s due process rights.

"How can you possibly have due process of teachers in two days," said David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan "You can't get through the process fairly in two days? Just time wise it's probably impossible to do."

According to MLive, a companion bill would hold a district hostage and hold up school funding for any school that did not automatically take assessed fines out of a teacher’s paycheck.  It also would allow the state superintendent to suspend a teachers’ certification for two years or even permanently take away their certification for participating in a job action. The bill would also allow public employers to hold the disciplinary hearing for a group of teachers all at once instead of one teacher at a time, lumping together multiple accusations instead of giving each individual teacher their due process.  "If you do it in groups, you're not specifically talking about this teacher or that teacher," Hecker said. "You're talking about it as a group. It's a complete violation of due process."

This legislation comes as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has proposed splitting the school district in two, a new district that would start out fresh and the existing district whose main goal would be to service the districts debt.  Both districts would have students attending schools in them, but one districts goal would be to educate students and the others would be to pay down the debt, imagine which group will get the better education.

The bill passed out of committee with a 4-1 vote, with the sole no vote being the only Democrat on the committee.  The Senate Government Operations Committee will meet on Thursday, February 4th to schedule a chamber wide vote on this attack on educator’s due process.

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