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DPS contract talks on hold over Lansing inaction; union leaders say that's a mistake

DPS emergency manager Steven Rhodes.
John Meiu
Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC

Contract talks between Detroit Public Schools teachers and the district’s emergency manager are on hold, and union leaders say that’s a mistake.

Contracts for DPS teachers and most other school employees expire June 30th.

Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes has said the district will delay collective bargaining until Lansing acts on legislation to prevent a DPS bankruptcy.

The state House and Senate have both passed aid packages that would prevent the district from becoming insolvent after June 30th, but they go about that in very different ways. The process of resolving those differences has hit some significant roadblocks in Lansing.

In the meantime, Rhodes said in a statement last week that the district will “defer” collective bargaining until “legislation is closer to its final form.”

“We want to proceed with collective bargaining negotiations as promptly as possible. However, it will be more productive to begin the negotiations when all of the parties have a real understanding of the resources that will be available to make the kind of commitments required in the bargaining process,” Rhodes said.

But Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, thinks it makes sense to start talking.

Bailey says she understands Rhodes’ position. But she says there are non-monetary aspects of the teachers' contract, like teacher evaluation procedures, that can be discussed now.

“Nothing will be set in stone. These are all proposals,” Bailey said. “And I think we can decide what we all agree on, we can come to a happy medium, and we can set that aside. And then we can move onto the next thing.”

Bailey says that even if state lawmakers eventually do pass a bankruptcy-style restructuring similar to what the Senate passed—one that would split the existing district into an “old company/new company” model—the details of how that will be implemented are still very unclear.

Bailey says that’s a big concern.

“How is this new company going to work?” she asked. “Are we going to be in a situation where everything is all ready, with all teachers in place, when school starts back in September?”

“I just don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute trying to see how we’re going to formulate our school system.”

Equally unclear is what will happen if there’s no new contract in place by June 30.

The Senate bill provides for transferring all current DPS employees to the new “community district,” as well as “the terms and conditions of that collective bargaining agreement applicable to employees… on the transfer date.” The legislation currently sets that transfer date as July 1.

Given the time crunch, Bailey thinks teachers will likely have to ask to extend their current contract, one she says was largely “imposed” by former emergency managers. She admits she doesn’t know what will happen going forward in that case.

“And I just once again feel those are the things we can kind of talk about right now,” Bailey said. “They don’t cost any money.”

In his statement, Rhodes said, “the district will continue to act in good faith and work with its unions,” and urged the Legislature to “work thoughtfully, but with all due speed, to pass legislation that will create a successful future for the students of Detroit.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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