Teacher Sick-Outs Close Most Detroit Schools for Second Day

Detroit teachers march outside the district headquarters in Detroit on Monday. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Detroit teachers march outside the district headquarters in Detroit on Monday. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Nearly all of Detroit’s public schools were closed for a second consecutive day Tuesday after hundreds of teachers called in sick over concerns that many may not get paid if the financially struggling district runs out of money.

But a top Republican lawmaker said teachers are “going to get paid” and that lawmakers have never indicated they will not solve the financial problems in the district, which is being operated by the state. The Michigan Legislature is considering a $720 million restructuring plan that would pay off the district’s enormous debt.

On Tuesday, the district closed 94 of its 97 schools — the same number that was forced to cancel classes Monday when more than 1,500 teachers did not show up for work.

Teachers were expected to continue picketing outside district administrative offices where several hundred protested on Monday. A union membership meeting was scheduled Tuesday afternoon at a Detroit church.

“Let us be clear. We are still locked out,” Detroit Federation of Teachers president Ivy Bailey said in an email late Monday to the union’s rank-and-file. “We do not work for free and therefore we do not expect you to report to school tomorrow.”

The district has been under continuous state oversight since 2009 and led by a series of emergency managers who have tried to cut down its debt and millions of dollars in annual deficits. Current transition manager and former federal judge Steven Rhodes, who oversaw the city’s recent bankruptcy, warned over the weekend that $47.8 million in emergency money that the state approved in March will run out by June 30.

Teachers opting to have their pay spread over a full 12 months instead of the course of the school year would not receive paychecks in July and August without more help from the state.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka started a hearing Tuesday in Lansing by saying “it’s now time for us to act” after the GOP-led Senate passed the restructuring plan in March. Pscholka said it doesn’t matter who gets blamed for Detroit schools’ long-lasting problems, and that “the future of Detroit’s schoolchildren … is on the line.”

But the growing sick-outs that started late last year with just a small group of teachers appear to be threatening the plan.

Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, said Monday that the sick-outs, conducted by “egotistical teachers,” have cost Detroit schoolchildren more than one million hours of instruction.

But one parent who was missing work because her daughter has been shut out of class both days said the blame for the district’s financial maladies falls on the shoulders of the state, not the teachers.

“I think (the teachers) have been doing the best that they can with the resources that they have,” said Monique Baker McCormick, whose daughter is an 11th grader at Cass Tech. “They’re just trying to survive themselves off of what little they get. So I don’t blame them at all for fighting for what they deserve.”

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