Solving Detroit schools’ debt issue is only one piece of the puzzle, teachers and students need support
LANSING — Today, before the Michigan Senate Government Operations Committee, AFT Michigan President David Hecker and Interim Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey spoke about the need to address the numerous issues that plague Detroit Public Schools due to lack of local control, divestment in the classroom and mismanagement by emergency managers.
“While there is much good happening in Detroit’s public schools, thanks to dedicated, committed, and talented teachers and staff, overall academic performance in DPS, EAA and charters is not close to what our children deserve,” said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan. “Today we have staggering debt, a chaotic system of publically funded education options, lack of local control, unacceptable class sizes, schools in shocking disrepair, and an over 170-person teacher shortage. It is a situation we should never accept for our children.”
Testimony highlighted the fact that the children who live in Detroit, a city with 60 percent of kids living in poverty and with 47 percent of adults being functionally illiterate, face extraordinary challenges before they even step foot in the classroom. In addition, the deplorable conditions that some of the district’s buildings have fallen into under emergency management were also discussed.
“The physical conditions of Detroit school buildings are deplorable. Since mid-January, the city has inspected about 30 school buildings and has found more than 300 health and safety code violations,” said Ivy Bailey, interim president of DFT. “There is great difficulty attracting and retaining quality teachers, with 170 unfilled teaching positions at DPS. Teacher compensation is significantly lower than other major urban centers and our surrounding communities. Many work in buildings in such disrepair that would not be tolerated if it was the Senate Office Building, and have class sizes larger than the Michigan Senate.”
Bailey talked about safety and building issues such as buckets in the classrooms to collect water that drips from the ceilings, broken steam vents creating dangerous conditions on a playground, broken heater systems and cockroach infestations.
In addition to working in unacceptable conditions, with classrooms that sometimes balloon to 45 students for one instructor, teachers have also been hit in their pocketbooks, doling out higher insurance payments, loaning the district money and accepting pay freezes in order to help the district stay afloat. Meanwhile their professional peers in other districts both in Michigan and out of state receive much more in compensation.
Bailey highlighted that “a teacher who started at DPS in 2012 made $35,683. Today, she makes the same. This figure is significantly lower than other major urban districts. Starting teachers in Cleveland make 22 percent more than Detroit teachers and starting teachers in Washington D.C. make almost 50 percent more than their counterparts in Detroit. Teachers with master’s degrees at step 15 earn a salary of $90,000 in Warren and $87,000 in Chippewa Valley — while a DPS teacher of the same professional experience and qualifications receives $65,000.”
“We, as adults, while we have different roles as educators, legislators, and community leaders, must deliver better for our children. Our teachers and school employees are giving everything they have in the classrooms and school buildings,” Hecker said. “We have teachers not only buying school supplies, but paint and hardware to fix up their classrooms. We have school employees staying after their workday to ensure children have what they need. We must be able to retain and attract the best and brightest teachers and staff to eliminate a staggering teacher shortage. We must provide our teachers and staff with the resources and supports they need as well as establish a coherent system of public education where all schools are lifted up, where every child reaches their academic potential.”
Hecker went on to say that the recommendations made by the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren would provide the necessary changes to the system to ensure all children have real access to neighborhood based, quality schools. AFT Michigan remains committed to working with all stakeholders to strengthen the Detroit Public Schools and educate the children of Detroit.