Detroit teachers force closure of 94 public schools

Monday, May 2, 2016 - 10:12pm

A sickout planned by the Detroit Federation of Teachers in the Detroit Public Schools system closed 94 of 97 DPS schools on Monday. The teachers organized the sickout in protest of the announcement that teachers will not be paid past June 30 of this year unless the state legislature approves funding to the district.

Judge Steven Rhodes, DPS’s state-appointed emergency manager, allegedly told the union on Saturday the state’s current budget does not allot nearly enough money for teachers’ salaries, summer school programs and special education services. The closure affected a majority of the approximately 46,000 students enrolled in DPS.

The sickout follows a series of similar protests last held in January against the dilapidated condition of many school buildings. Schools have reported instances of rodents, cockroaches and leaking ceilings in many buildings due to the lack of sufficient funding to address building maintenace. 

State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D–Detroit) said she is cautiously optimistic that her colleagues will pass a bill to alleviate these issues.

“DPS is in a financial crisis, and we need legislation to both pay the debt and make sure that there are structural changes as well,” Chang said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “The Detroit Democrats — I and my colleagues — have been working really hard for a while now on trying to advocate for both paying down the debt as well as some other changes. We are going to continue to fight for Detroit kids and make sure that we get some movement here.”

Union Interim President Ivy Bailey railed against the forecasted suspension in pay in an e-mail sent to union members on Monday.

"There's a basic agreement in America: When you put in a day's work, you'll receive a day's pay. DPS is breaking that deal," Bailey wrote. "Unfortunately, by refusing to guarantee that we will be paid for our work, DPS is effectively locking our members out of the classrooms."

Rhodes is the most recent state-appointed emergency manager, following the resignation of Darnell Early, who faced much criticism over both his handling of DPS and the city of Flint, where he also acted as emergency manager during the water crisis. DPS has been under an emergency manager since 2009 and has been operating under a deficit of $515 million.

In March, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill to appropriate DPS $48.7 million so the district could stay open until June 30. He said he hopes to continue efforts to find a more permanent solution. 

“I will continue working with lawmakers on a long-term solution to restructure debt and direct more resources towards the classroom,” Snyder said in a statement. “Certainly today’s news is another sign of how urgently that solution is needed.”

Snyder further criticized the sickouts on a visit to Flint Monday morning.

“That’s not a constructive act with respect to getting legislation through,” he said.

Bailey told Fox Detroit that teachers should not be expected to report to schools on Tuesday.