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Detroit teachers start school year in new district, looking for new contract

Detroit teachers protesting downtown on May 2, 2016.
Sarah Jardine

Detroit public schoolteachers start the new school year working with an expired contract — and bargaining for a new one.

After this summer’s restructuring, the Detroit Public Schools no longer exists, for practical purposes. Now, former DPS teachers now work for a brand-new entity — the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

And they want a new contract. Their old one was “imposed” on them by former DPS emergency managers, in the union’s view.

Teachers have also taken pay cuts, lost benefits, and even loaned the district money from their paychecks under a series of five emergency managers, before the state finally stepped in to prevent a bankruptcy earlier this year.

It’s not clear how much leverage the DFT has in negotiations. While the new district is free of the debt burden that dogged DPS, it still has a restricted budget. And while the district will transition back to a locally elected school board next year, a state-appointed financial review commission still needs to approve all budgetary decisions, including collective bargaining contracts.

Some teachers have taken to social media with the message, “DPSCD should give us a contract right away” and “fair contract now for DFT.”

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey told members in an update letter this week that “we were insulted and dumbfounded by the district’s initial economic proposals.” 

But there’s apparently been some improvement since then.

“For the first time in more than a decade, we are not bargaining on concessions and give-backs. Instead, we are bargaining for actual gains for members,” Bailey wrote. “This is a real improvement over where we were at the start of negotiations.”

District leaders have declined comment as talks continue.

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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