Detroit Public Schools Sick-Out By Teachers Cripples District, Nearly 46,000 Students Stay Home

Most Detroit public schools were closed today as teachers staged a massive “sick-out” to protest the district’s inability to pay them this summer. According to an email from district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski, 94 of 97 schools did not hold classes on Monday.

The sick-out by 1,562 teachers was encouraged by the Detroit Federation of Teachers after Detroit Public Schools said the district will be out of money by summer and unable to pay teachers unless it receives more funding from the state. The union’s interim president, Ivy Bailey, said it is the district’s obligation to keep teachers in the classroom and pay them a fair wage.

“There’s a basic agreement in America: When you put in a day’s work, you’ll receive a day’s pay. DPS is breaking that deal. Teachers want to be in the classroom, giving children a chance to learn and reach their potential. Unfortunately, by refusing to guarantee that we will be paid for our work, DPS is effectively locking our members out of the classrooms.”

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, a sick-out by Detroit teachers happened earlier this year to raise awareness about the deplorable and dangerous conditions of many of the district’s buildings. The protest in January also forced the closure of most of the district’s schools.

In March, the state set aside $47.8 million in emergency money to keep the school system running, but that is only enough to pay teachers until June 30. After which, summer school and special education programs will also go unfunded.

The underlying issue with not paying teachers after June ends lies with the fact that some receive their income over the course of the school year while others spread it out over a calendar year. While it is unclear just how many receive their pay spread out, they will not get paid even though they showed up to teach classes during the school year. While the average teacher annual salary in the district is $63,716, many of these educators contend they barely survive and need the money to get through the summer months.

“We have already put the work in,” said Kimberly Morrison, a 20-year district employee. “If I don’t get my pay, then somebody else — who I owe — won’t get their pay.”

Nikhol Atkins, a staff worker with the teachers’ union, counted more than 500 people rallying outside a school district administration building in support of the sick-out. Part of the protest by both teachers and parents was to motivate the Michigan legislature to approve a $715 million education reform package to pay salaries in July and beyond.

Detroit schools’ state-appointed transition manager and ex-bankruptcy attorney Steven Rhodes said the district is obligated to pay the teachers but doesn’t see how it will happen until the state takes action.

“No one can guarantee what the Legislature will do,” Rhodes said. “The alternative is so unimaginable.”

The governor’s office said the district is currently overwhelmed with $515 million in operating debt and spends roughly $1,100 per student just to service that debt every year. Governor Rick Snyder believes action will be taken sometime this month, and a clear resolution will be found by mid-June.

“A legislative solution is the best solution compared to the alternatives of ending up in court in some fashion,” Snyder said.

However, he warned that the teacher sick-outs have the potential to make matters worse.

“That’s not a constructive act with respect to getting legislation through. That probably raises more questions… with legislators.”

Under Michigan law, teacher strikes are illegal. The closures caused by the Detroit teachers sick-out affects about 46,000 students who are enrolled in the district.

[Photo by AP Photo/Carlos Osorio]