Detroit teachers close schools 2nd day with mass sick-out

(AP Photo)

DETROIT (AP) — Nearly all Detroit public schools are closed again as mass teacher sick-outs over pay roll into a second day. Meanwhile, a Michigan panel has approved a $500 million plan that would bail out and overhaul Detroit’s ailing school district, which will run out of money at the end of June.

The action comes as some GOP leaders lash out at teachers for the sick-outs, which gave nearly 45,000 schoolchildren another unscheduled day off.

The educators stopped short of calling it a strike, instead saying they called the massive sick-out in response to an announcement that the district wouldn’t be able to pay teachers who deferred part of their salaries to get checks during the summer months.

Here are some questions and answers about what teachers call a lockout vs. what would be an illegal strike.

HOW DID THE DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS’ FINANCES GET SO BAD?

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said the district’s debt will reach about $515 million by this summer. Much of the blame for the money troubles can be traced to plummeting student enrollment. The Detroit Public Schools had 150,415 students in 2003-2004. Now, about 46,000 students attend the district’s 97 schools. Detroit receives about $7,400 for each student. Many Detroit parents seeking out better educational opportunities for their children have turned to charter schools and close-by suburban districts.
 

WHY DID THE DETROIT TEACHERS’ UNION CALL FOR THE SICK-OUTS?

The Detroit Federation of Teachers has not supported sick-outs held earlier this year by some of its members, but union leadership is growing more frustrated with the district’s poor finances. The sick-outs on Monday and Tuesday closed 94 of the district’s 97 schools, eclipsing a January sick-out in which classes were canceled at 88 schools. The union was told over the weekend by state-appointed transition manager Steven Rhodes that there would be no money after June 30 to pay teachers who have chosen to have their paychecks spread out over the entire year. Union president Ivy Bailey said that an inability by Rhodes to guarantee those teachers would receive paychecks during the summer for work they would have already performed was the breaking point.

WHAT ACTIONS DO TEACHERS PLAN TO TAKE NEXT?

The union says a meeting is scheduled Tuesday with the members to discuss their options. Bailey has said that by refusing to guarantee teachers will be paid for their work, the district is effectively locking them out of their classrooms. Former Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn has said that the sick-outs will lead to a full-blown teachers strike and that “a strike is the only way the teachers can win.” But under Michigan law, it’s illegal for teachers to strike.

HAVE DETROIT TEACHERS EVER GONE ON STRIKE, AND WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?

In 2006, Detroit teachers went on strike for 16 days after rejecting a contract offer that would have cut their pay by 5.5 percent over two years. Teachers agreed to return to work and consider a deal with eventual raises. During the strike, a judge ordered the teachers to return to work after Detroit Public Schools requested an injunction, but teachers mostly stayed off the job. The district argued that the strike was illegal. A contempt charge against the teachers’ union was later dismissed. Teachers received a 2 percent pay raise after a nine-day strike in 1999.

WHAT ARE LAWMAKERS DOING?

The state approved $47.8 million in emergency money in March to keep the school district operating, but that amount only pays the bills through June 30. A House committee on Tuesday approved a $500 million plan to restructure Detroit’s ailing school district by paying off enormous operating debt and creating a new district. The bills next head to the floor of the Republican-led House, which could vote on them later this week. The new bills differ from a bipartisan $720 million plan approved by the Senate in March. The Senate and House will have to work out their differences to advance the measure before the Legislature adjourns in June.

WHAT HAPPENS IF IT’S NOT APPROVED BY THE STATE LEGISLATURE?

Lawmakers could consider passing another emergency stopgap measure, like the earlier emergency measure that is keeping the district operating through June 30.

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