Detroit Schools Has a Difficult Start to the 2006-2007 School Year

Lisa R. Parker

There has been a slow and turbulent start to the Detroit Schools ‘ new school year. In a battle over contracts, some 7,000 teachers and 2,000 staff members refused to start school in September. These contract disagreements lead finally to a court battle. The contract disagreement began on August 28 after the Teachers Union rejected a two year contract that included salary cuts of 5% and increased health insurance co-payments. Detroit Schools wants an $88 million concession from the Detroit Schools’ Teachers’ Union to help with the $105 million deficit to its $1.36 billion budget.

On September 16, Detroit Circuit Court Judge Susan Borman ordered that the 7,000 striking Detroit Schools’ teachers return to work. After this order, Detroit Teachers’ Union president Janna Garrison read the order aloud to 3,000 Detroit Federation of Teachers members but did not comment or give any instructions as to whether the order should be obeyed. The vast majority of the teachers did not return to work.

Detroit Schools’ spokesman Lekan Oguntoyinbo stated that under state law teachers who defied the order could face penalties which include fines and other actions. Oguntoyinbo said that Detroit Schools would go back to the courts and request that the order be enforce. As of the 18th of September, teachers had not returned and Detroit Schools has not decided what action it would take.

On the official first day of school, the 130,000 students in the Detroit Schools were greeted by their teachers not in the classroom but protesting outside. The picketing teachers were most of the teachers, only about 9% of Detroit Schools had returned to work. The Detroit Schools Board of Education worried that the strike would cause students to pull out of the Detroit schools and that their families will leave the city, however most parents support the teachers.

Detroit Schools’ Teachers Return to Work

Even though the contract issues have not been fully resolved but the Teachers’ Union has announced that the teachers returned to work on September 20. This was mainly due to pressures from the court and not due to reconciliation between the Detroit Schools and the teachers.

Many Union members, parents and other supporters of the teachers do not want the issue to remain tabled. These supporters want the Detroit Schools system revised. They claim the administration is top heavy and each position should be justified in some way. Others want the Detroit Schools to consider the consolidation of schools. This idea has fewer supporters because it would involve school closures that would greatly affect parents and neighborhoods. Even though this would be the most drastic of the possible ways to change the Detroit Schools, it may be the most cost effective. Like all issues there are many sides. Some wish the Detroit Schools top be run more like a business, which would include offering teacher buyouts, others believe education should be the main focus no matter what the costs.

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