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Majority of Detroit teachers vote yes to ratify a one-year contract

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Terrence Martin said that the contract includes worker protections essential to support teachers. Photo taken May 24, 2019.
Lori Higgins

Detroit teachers overwhelmingly ratified a one-year contract on Monday that includes pay raises, bonuses, and more working protections.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the email sent to union members on Tuesday. Members voted 76.56% in favor of the agreement, while 23.44% rejected it.

“This contract puts us in great position and provides us leverage to do even more next year for our members on a multiyear deal. This agreement contains protections for our members that we haven’t had before. These protections are essential to ensure our educators can provide the very best service to students,“ said Detroit Federation of Teachers president Terrence Martin in a statement.

All current union employees on the step scale will be moved up a step. In addition, some of the district’s highest paid teachers, who are at the top of the step scale, will get a 2.74% wage increase and some members could get a $1,500 bonus. The union also secured pay increases for teachers and bonuses for long-term substitutes and retirees returning to the district.

The agreement states that new teachers won’t be on the step schedule unless part of Michigan’s school reform law enacted in 2010 is repealed or amended. The law was updated in 2019 to include the Detroit school district.

The law states that the district must use job performance as the “primary” factor in determining pay. Step increases are based on years of teaching experience and education.

There has been disagreement among teachers over whether the tentative agreement will hold up under further scrutiny.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said that since the state did not issue state testing this year, there are no metrics to use for performance pay.

“The current salary structure allows us to be compliant with state law when/if state testing and district end of year testing resumes for next year,” he said.

Martin warned that the law could affect the district’s efforts to improve teacher retention. “This district can potentially become a revolving door for teachers,” if the law isn’t repealed, he said. The district has less than 50 teacher vacancies since the start of the school year. Most of these positions are in special education.

The Detroit school board and the Detroit Financial Review Commission also must approve the agreement. Once final, the contract will immediately go into effect, resolving months of tense bargaining talks. The union, which represents about 4,000 employees, has been working under the three-year contract that expired in June.

When the district prepared to reopen schools this fall, the COVID pandemic intensified teachers’ fears over health and safety. A separate deal in late August offered hazard pay to teachers working inside school buildings and ongoing, voluntary COVID testing for students and staff after the union threatened to launch a “safety strike.”

In addition to pay bumps for teachers, long-term substitutes and retirees returning to the district are eligible for a $900 bonus, except those with daily teaching assignments. Retirees hired after June 30 will start on step one of the pay scale. The district will also increase the minimum pay of all DFT hourly employees who are not on steps to $15.

As reported earlier, starting salaries for new teachers hired for the 2020-21 school year will increase to $51,071 according to the contract.

Those with advanced degrees will start at a base salary between $58,142 and $58,742, depending on their education level. All current union employees on the pay scale will be moved up a step. The highest paid teachers with a master’s degree would now earn about $75,000 a year. Last year, these teachers earned about $73,000.

Since 2017, the district has increased pay for teachers, with some increases as high as $15,000 in three years according to the district’s statement.

“This administrative team and school board has delivered on its promise to improve salaries, benefits and working conditions to retain and recruit teachers, even amid a pandemic,” said Vitti said in a statement.

Last year, the union won a 4% increase for teachers at the top of the step schedule. The increase last year put their earnings above what they were making in 2009, when the state began appointing a series of emergency managers to oversee the district. During that period of emergency management, teachers’ salaries were cut 10%.

Along with pay boosts, the agreement includes a provision that calls for the district’s civil rights office to investigate allegations of harassment, retaliation, and discrimination against union employees. Union employees will also be allowed to participate in organizing activities while on school property. The contract also outlines efforts the district and union leaders will make to improve teacher retention.

The full agreement is posted on the union’s website.

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