Detroit educators spend Teacher's Day pleading for pay

Teacher's Day: Detroit's teachers are entering their second day of sick-out protests, after the school district announced that paychecks would stop on June 30. 

Tanya Moutzalias/The Ann Arbor News-MLive Detroit/AP
Hundreds of teachers march during a rally in Detroit's New Center on Monday. Detroit teachers engaged in a mass sick-out for a second day on Tuesday, to protest the possibility that some of them will not get paid over the summer if the struggling district runs out of cash.

For many educators, Teacher's Day comes with apples, thank-you cards, and other tokens of gratitude from parents and students. But in Detroit, teachers are spending this day demanding their paychecks.

Most of Detroit’s public schools remain closed on Tuesday, as teacher sick-out protests over missing pay enter their second day.

Ninety four of Detroit’s public schools closed on Monday due to the protests, causing more than 40,000 students to miss class. Detroit’s teachers, who are legally not allowed to strike, stayed home sick in order to protest the announcement that they will not receive pay for work already completed.

"While we recognize that this puts Detroit's parents and communities in a difficult situation, the district's broken promises and gross negligence leave us no choice," said the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ executive vice president Terrence Martin in a press conference Monday.

Monday night, DFT interim president Ivy Bailey sent out an email saying that teachers would once again miss work on Tuesday. Teachers also have a protest and a union meeting scheduled for Tuesday, in the absence of classes.

Educators are trapped between a rock and a hard place in Detroit, where debt has skyrocketed and school enrollment plummeted since the early 2000s.

During the 2003-2004 school year, Detroit schools enrolled over 150,000 students. Today, about 46,000 students, a third of 2003’s enrollment numbers, attend Detroit public schools.

By this summer, Detroit’s schools will be a whopping $515 million in debt and the schools are rapidly running out of funding. Unfortunately, about two thirds of the city’s teachers have signed onto a common teacher payment plan that spreads paychecks out throughout the year, ensuring that teachers receive paychecks in the summer for work they did during the school year.

This year, the school district announced that it simply doesn’t have enough money to pay teachers their salaries after June 30. That announcement shocked the teachers and prompted Ms. Bailey to call the situation a “lockout,” where she says teachers are essentially barred from their jobs by the fact that they would be working without pay.

What will happen in Detroit as the sick outs continue?

Although Michigan teachers are legally prohibited from striking, former DFT president Steve Conn said that, "a strike is the only way the teachers can win."

Despite legal prohibitions, Detroit’s teachers have gone on strike before, in 1999 and 2006. In 1999, teachers went on strike for nine days and eventually received a two percent pay raise for their trouble. In 2006, teachers went on strike for 16 days over pay cuts. Although a judge ordered teachers to return to their classrooms, most did not.

Yet even if teachers go on strike, where will Detroit get the funds to pay them?

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill last month that gave the Detroit Public Schools $47.8 million dollars, but that was not enough. A $720 million restructuring plan approved by the state’s legislature could aid the city, but if all else fails, the district could require another short term cash injection to grant teachers their due.  

"Being paid for their work isn't a luxury, it's a necessity," wrote DFT president Ivy Bailey in a statement yesterday.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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