By Steve Gunn
DETROIT – Detroit Public Schools are literally struggling to survive.
The district is trying to overcome years of poor management and runaway labor costs, which recently led to a budget deficit of more than $300 million. Roughly 4,100 teachers were given layoff notices this spring. The student dropout rate remains near 40 percent.
Now the district, under a state-appointed emergency manager, is working hard to rebound and properly serve the children of the city.
As part of a broad plan to save money and cut into a deficit still hovering around $72 million, Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts has imposed a new contract on the Detroit Federation of Teachers, according to the Detroit News.
The new pact maintains teacher salaries at current levels, but charges employees more for dental care and life insurance policies and cuts their planning time.
Did union officials react to this new measure in a positive manner, knowing that the district needs to take strong action to overcome years of failure and chronic waste?
Of course not.
Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson called the new contract “a farce,” mostly because there was no collective bargaining involved. He refused to rule out the possibility of a teachers strike.
“Had we been afforded the opportunity to engage in good faith collective bargaining and to reach a mutual agreement, we would be eager to present the fruits of such collaboration to you,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “But that is not this situation.”
Let’s see. One of the last times DFT engaged in collective bargaining with the district, it produced a contract that paid teachers about $16 million in automatic, annual salary increases, $12.5 million in reimbursement for unused sick days, $665,000 for “longevity bonuses” and $376,000 for teachers who had an extra kid or two in their classrooms.
The union demanded those extras, and many more, at a time when the district was laying off 2,000 employees, many of them younger teachers.
Johnson’s union is clearly not interested in balancing budgets or improving academics. It exists to maintain its power and suck every penny out of the school system that it can possibly get.
The Detroit school system has been a national embarrassment, and only the strong efforts of a determined emergency financial manager will reinvigorate the district.
They ran things the union way for about 50 years, and we saw what happened. Given that, union leaders should sit down, shut up and be grateful that teacher salaries were not cut again. Leave the necessary reforms to the people in administration who put the interests of students first.