The Michigan Department of Treasury has announced that it will pay the bill for the legal fees accrued to sue two teachers over a massive teacher sickout held earlier in the year. It was expected that Detroit Public Schools would be held responsible for the almost $300,000 in fees.
"Nearly $320,000 has been billed," Treasury spokesman Jeremy Sampson said late last week. "DPS is reviewing the invoices and then they are sending them to Treasury for payment. Treasury is sending the money directly to Dickinson Wright."
Sampson added that the Treasury is helping DPS because it is understanding of their financial situation and is offering assistance to the district in a variety of areas.
"In my view, Treasury's decision to assist the school district with its legal fees does not mean that Treasury is effectively suing the teachers," said Sampson. "The school district is the plaintiff in the case and will presumably remain the plaintiff."
However, ousted Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn and East English Village Academy High School teacher Nicole Conaway, the two being sued for their role in pushing teachers to join the sickouts, argue that the Treasury paying the legal fees of the district are part of a plan by Governor Rick Snyder to silence protesting teachers and keep control over the district, writes Shawn Lewis for The Detroit News.
According to The Detroit News, DPS officials chose to pay a premium for a private attorney in order to ensure that Conn and Conaway were found guilty rather than use the in-house lawyers that were available to them, thus racking up $285,000 in legal fees, although fees for June and July are still unknown. At the same time, students in the district were being let out of summer school early because of a lack of working air conditioning in an estimated 50 buildings throughout the district.
The news has angered many as the district continues to struggle financially, reports Nicole Gorman for Education World.
"The district could hire at least five teachers with benefits and reduce class size," said disputed school board president LaMar Lemmons to The Detroit News.
Conn and Conaway also disapprove of the rescue plan for the district, which will give the Detroit Review Commission oversight of the district's finances and DPS will have the ability to hire uncertified teachers.
A $617 million rescue plan was approved by state lawmakers last month to be put toward the repayment of $467 million in district debt and the creation of a new, debt-free Detroit Public Schools Community District. This was decided upon after a warning came from DPS Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes in May that the district would run out of money on June 30, leaving teachers and other employees unpaid.
A number of state-appointed Emergency Managers have run the Detroit school district since March 2009.
The sickouts were staged by teachers in the district in protest of poor working conditions, including dilapidated buildings and the possibility of not receiving their salary over the summer months.
The case built against the teachers is still pending in court, although a decision is expected to be reached this Sunday.