The Detroit Federation of Teachers contract with Detroit Public Schools expires on June 30 and Jennifer Chambers, writing for Detroit News, reports that this expiry means that nearly 25% of DPS teachers won’t be returning to classrooms this fall.
The district has lost 15 schools to a new statewide system for low-performing schools and two more have turned into DPS-run charter schools. There is also an anticipated drop in regular enrollment. The cumulative effect is expected to be a thinning of the student body by around 15,000 children. As Chambers puts it ‘fewer schools, fewer students, fewer teachers’.
There are currently 4,100 teachers at DPS and 500 are due to retire by September 1. Which leaves about 500 redundancies necessary unless estimates of student decline are wrong or further concessions are granted by the union. There has already been a 10% pay reduction under Emergency Manager Roy Roberts as the districts works to balance its books by 2016 and free itself from state control.
“They are certainly in a defensive posture based on a very difficult five- to 10-year period where the rug has been pulled out from under them,” labor relations expert Mike Whitty said. “When you are the Alamo, you have to make the best of it.”
Roberts has control of the district’s budget, expected to fall below $1 billion this year, and has the power to break collective bargaining agreements under Public Act 4. He also appears to be playing hardball with the unions who are beginning to worry about the short period of time until the DFT contract expires.
“Absolutely nothing is happening. Roy hasn’t even hinted at meeting to begin or discuss negotiations,” DFT President Keith Johnson said last week. “I sent a letter in March. Other than that, we have not set out to even begin discussing negotiating a timetable. I would really like to have at least something in the works before the end of the school year. That way, the school and the community (don’t) have to worry about school starting on time.”
Public Act 4 wasn’t in effect last time contract talks took place in 2009, but Roberts can use it to impose terms if he doesn’t like the way talks are going. In addition to the 10% pay cuts last summer Roberts also used PA4 to impose higher health care costs for employees. Combined these measures saved DPS over $80 million. PA4 is currently being challenged; there may be a question on the November ballot to void the law, but while it exists it provides a stark change to the usual balance of power in union negotiations.
Whitty, a professor with the University of Detroit Mercy advised unions to:
“Make the best of negotiations and use that as a shield for anybody coming back to you in the next month when they are $30 million short. At least you can hold up that shield,” Whitty said. “Negotiations — it’s a velvet glove. There is an iron first in the velvet glove and it’s not Roy Roberts. It’s Gov. (Rick) Snyder and Republicans in Lansing.”