Teacher Sickouts Close Nearly Every Detroit School
By Lori Higgins
Shouting chants of "No pay, no work" and "enough is enough," hundreds of Detroit teachers rallied outside the Fisher Building today calling for a forensic audit of Detroit Public Schools and a guarantee they would be paid for their work.
"No one should expect to go to work without pay," said Ann Mitchell, the administrator for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The rally came on the same day massive sickouts closed nearly all of the district's 97 schools.
DPS emergency manager Judge Steven Rhodes told the union Saturday that unless the state Legislature approves sending more money to the district, there is not enough in the coffers to pay teachers their already-earned salaries after June 30. Summer school and extended special education services would also be canceled.
Teachers said they had been told that the $48.7 million allocated by the Legislature last month to fund the district through June 30 would cover summer pay for approximately two-thirds of district teachers who signed up for a plan that allows teachers to spread their pay over one year instead of during the school year.
Rhodes denied this at a news conference today.
"We said all along that the $48.7 million ... was only enough money to fund our expenditures through June," Rhodes said.
He called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide about $720 million in funding to launch a new DPS. He said he wants, and intends, to pay teachers, but that legislation is vital in order to do so.
The rally brought teachers by the carload -- many dressed in red union shifts -- to spread their message to the school district and state officials. The mostly orderly rally did at times hold up traffic on Grand Boulevard, with Detroit police officers having to redirect traffic while protesters walked down middle of the street.
"I need you to get on the sidewalk," one police officer told the crowd from his vehicle speaker.
But the crowd wasn't deterred.
Often, they shouted that "this is a lock-[out, not a sick-out."
"We consider this a lock-out," Mitchell said.
The DFT plans another meeting Tuesday to determine whether the union should take another action against the district, Mitchell said. She said she expects teachers to be in the classroom tomorrow, and if the union decides to take another action it would have to be voted on by teachers Wednesday and Thursday.
"We are sick and tired of being sick and tired," Mitchell said. "Enough is enough."
Jean Vortkamp, who described herself as a Detroit resident out to support teachers, was upset after a Detroit police officer kicked her hand while she was trying to write a message in chalk on the ground.
"Children all over the world write on the ground in chalk," she told him.
Her message was one many teachers repeated: She wants an audit done of the district's finances.
Rhodes said during the news conference that he would welcome an audit, but he said the district can't afford to pay for one.
"Our books are open," Rhodes said.
Lydia Paknas, a reading recovery teacher, said the district is going back on a promise it made to teachers during a town hall meeting in March. She said it will cost her $8,000 in pay, plus what she would have earned by teaching during summer school. "We have to stick together," Paknas said.
"It's unfair that the district is saying they're not going to pay for money and time teachers have already worked," said Kim Travis-Ewing, a school social worker.
House Speaker Kevin Cotter criticized the sick-outs, saying in a statement that the union "is once again putting the wants of adults ahead of the needs of children, specifically the 40,000 Detroit schoolchildren who were left out in the rain this morning."
Cotter said sick-outs -- including early actions that were in protest of building conditions, class sizes and a host of other issues -- have cost students one million instructional hours.
"These egotistical teachers have lashed out at the children who rely on them and accomplished nothing but disrupting their students' education," he said. "Their selfish and misguided plea for attention only makes it harder for us to enact a rescue plan and makes it harder for Detroit's youngest residents to get ahead and build a future for themselves."
Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said it is "unconscionable" that Michigan legislators have been "dilly-dallying" in passing needed reform legislation. She called it un-American to ask teachers to work but not pay them for it.
"It is outrageous and appalling that people who have been the glue of this system cannot even be guaranteed a salary for the work that they do. ... This is state government run amok," she told the Free Press in Boston today during the Education Writers Association national conference.
Weingarten said she is planning to come to Detroit Tuesday -- National Teacher Appreciation Day -- to support the city's teachers.
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