On July 1, the Detroit Public Schools contract with their teachers expired. Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Emergency Manager Roy Roberts imposed a new agreement with the remnants of the school district on Sunday, literally a day after the previous contract expired. Since the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) had already abandoned any idea of working with DPS long ago, this may be the first signal of the fight for the district, already left for scavengers to re-box and re-sell to others.
Days before the entire district contract expired, no action or activity was planned or implemented by the DFT. As the contract wound down, it was clear that there was no renegotiation on either side, nor any indication that any discussions were planned in actual belief that an agreement would be made.
I warned about this last September. The scope of transforming Detroit Public Schools into the Detroit Charter School System stretched past the jurisdiction of local governance, and incorporated state politics. Detroit Public Schools is already considered defunct, and the new system ensures the old grip of the dying DPS won’t come up and strangle the new Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the Education Achievement Schools (EAS), and all the kids who represent far more than just per-pupil dollars.
The position of the state and emergency financial managers is clear. They’ve been rather transparent about their aims, and have been fairly predictable. Like it or not, the fiscal situation of Detroit’s schools will improve under this plan. The consequences are what voters need to know, and they make the call.
The first step is to ensure the parents of Detroit students get to see their money spent on schools, not organizations or administration. It’s the best talking point you can ever have. Decades of mismanagement of school funds have left Detroit Public Schools with only 55% of funds going to the schools. Under the EAA, they promise to spend 95% of their funds on schools, because they now have a lot of state money (as well as federal cash) to do it, and not a hint of legacy debt, even though each school transferred to the EAA should have a mountain of debt riding along behind it.
All the bills are apparently left with the DPS (insert corporate accounting warning sign here). I’d be wary of all the debt being unloaded into one place, wouldn’t you?
Next, they want to divide the teachers by forcing choices for teachers to choose an EAA school job over defending a union that will literally lose thousands of members in the coming year. To put it simply, there are about 4,000 folks in the DFT. DPS says they’ll have to retire/fire 1,000 teachers, then the EAA will take about 400 teachers and absorb them into their authority. Over this summer, the DFT will lose 1,400 of its 4,000 members. That’s nearly 35% of the union lost right there, and precious dues will go with it. The DFT may have a stash of funds somewhere, but it’s probably not enough to handle a protracted war with a school district that’s already broke and being prepped for fiscal renovation.
With last Sunday’s news, it seems the DFT isn’t even a factor in the next step forward for Detroit Public Schools. Emergency Manager Roberts implies to the media that a CBA has been signed and delivered, which to me says he doesn’t care much about the DFT’s position.
The DFT isn’t rolling over, but their position has already lost a heap of potential. With a looming contract expiration, they wasted months worrying about alternative dues, pie-in-the-sky lawsuits and official “smile-for-the-national-organization” luncheons. Rather than working overtime to get their teachers informed, they’re trying to play rhetorical games in the media, and complaining instead of working for their members.
The one thing the Detroit teachers need is information. And a union should provide it, even after making nonsensical claims and prideful declarations. Sure, say that DPS has to tell you about the agreement, but post the contract so that everyone knows what you mean by a “farce.”
If it’s really that bad, you won’t need DPS to do anything but explain why they’re trying to hose you. Teachers find unity, the union finds a purpose, and DPS looks cheap.
And if there’s a copy of the contract out there, send it to your nearest reporter. I fear that the DFT rhetoric is actually more for their survival, and I’m thinking the agreement isn’t horrible. Because if it were actually horrible, I’d definitely post it and tell the media. You do the math.
You’re about to lose 35% of your membership dues in 2 months. DPS will retire/fire 25% of your members, and an entirely new school district will remove 10% (literally all of your high school teachers) and put them into the EAS. If you don’t pick a fight now, you won’t have anything to fight with later.
It’s like Detroit City Council worrying about paychecks for themselves rather than cutting their budgets to ensure a future concession when Detroit faced inevitable bankruptcy. They knew the money was gone, but they wanted to keep as much of it as they could before they “officially” ran out. It’s the same feeling I get from the DFT when they fight so hard for alternative dues the month before the deal for a contract is even signed for the next year. Saving the money first, then the rest, I suppose.
The DFT released a message for its members that doesn’t offer solace or strength. It just reminds teachers that their summer will be spent in the hot sun, and all the negligence the DFT provided the entire year prior to this week will be paid for with interest:
The Emergency Manager and the Detroit Public Schools have chosen to impose even deeper cuts into our wages, benefits and working conditions. They have announced these cuts in an unsigned document with the title “collective bargaining agreement.” This is a farce. There was no collective bargaining, and there was no agreement.
The message continues, specifically calling out DPS in their rather sheepish allowance to sell the DFT down the river:
The spokesman for DPS has stated through the media that he will give the DFT a chance to notify our members about the terms of the new “collective bargaining agreement.” We decline to do so. We will let the authors of this farce announce their own actions against you. Had we been afforded the opportunity to engage in good-faith collective bargaining and to reach a mutual agreement, we would be eager to present the fruits of such collaboration to you. But that is not this situation.
At this point, it’s clear to teachers that the DFT wants to push the DPS in front of them. Shawn Lewis of the Detroit News can’t find details on the contract (e-mail her a copy if you do have one), and it’s clear that DFT President Keith Johnson is holding the line, and forcing the DPS to reveal how much of a sellout they have become. The problem with this is all of this seems more like a selfish spat instead of a powerful union with an organization of thousands of teachers in Detroit.
Publishing the contract would shift the focus on the EFM and the DPS, and show teachers that their union is doing the job it is supposed to do. In fact, in the wake of previous DFT dust-ups in the past couple years, a little unity would be welcome in what I think is the beginning of the end of Detroit Public Schools and their union.
I think the rhetoric of DFT President Johnson does make a point. There is no collective anything in an Emergency Manager situation. But teachers can’t eat smug smiles of selfish satisfaction. They can’t pay bills with protracted strikes from a union with 1/3 of their membership retired, fired or re-hired.
The teachers who have survived decades might want to start a discussion with their new members. The old DFT had the money and the ability to fight. And I think older teachers who know the score should tell their members what’s going to be required of them if the DFT asks them to go to war.
But if the DFT can’t get its membership organized, informed, and united, there won’t be much of a fight. It’s no wonder Emergency Manager Roy Roberts can dictate terms of surrender before the battle has even been fought.
Publish the contract, save the drama for later.