With just weeks to go before school starts, members of the Detroit school district’s main teachers union are calling for salary increases that would make their pay more competitive with wealthier neighboring school districts.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers has been negotiating with Detroit Public Schools Community District officials for months over a new contract heading into the 2023-24 school year, which begins Aug. 28 for students. Teacher pay has been a key area of discussion as DPSCD, like other Michigan school districts, struggles to retain teachers, address staff burnout and reduce the number of vacancies.
“We deserve a competitive contract,” said Crystal Lee, a teacher at Charles R. Drew Transitional Center and one of several DFT members who spoke at a school board meeting Tuesday. “This is the district’s opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to providing quality and consistent services for the schoolchildren of Detroit.”
“We are looking at what other districts are paying their educators,” Lee said. “We recognize Detroit is far behind, but we are waiting for a competitive wage just like neighboring districts.”
DFT Executive Vice President Jason Posey told board members that time is running short with the school year starting in just a few weeks. “Families are deciding where to send their students,” Posey said. “Our members are being offered positions by surrounding districts with better salaries.”
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DFT President Lakia Wilson-Lumpkins said that DPSCD should have more money available now thanks to a settlement with the state in a literacy lawsuit that will provide $94 million to the district to support literacy programs.
The union members’ appeals come after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that largely restored Michigan teacher bargaining rights stripped away over the past decade, as well as bills to support teacher recruitment and retention across the state.
DPSCD estimates it has about 50 teacher vacancies going into the new school year, mostly for special education teachers.
DFT members currently have a starting salary of more than $51,000. The union’s more than 4,000 members include teachers and master teachers, as well as support staff such as academic interventionists, attendance agents, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
DFT’s last contract was approved in September 2021, and provided 4% salary increases across the board for teachers, as well as additional annual raises for veteran and special ed teachers. That contract was slated to expire on June 30, but union and district officials agreed to a contract extension that lasts until Aug. 20.
DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at Tuesday’s meeting that he’s confident that an agreement will be reached before school starts. Vitti has made increasing staff salaries a critical budget priority for the next school year, even as the district cut its budget to account for the loss of federal COVID relief funding.
“DFT and the district want the same thing, which is to continually increase the salary of our teachers,” Vitti said. “I think we’ve made strides in the past couple of weeks in particular, and I think we will both compromise to raise teachers salaries at a rate that we have yet to do as a district … while not relying on one-time money to do that.”
Vitti also shared updates on the district’s alternative teacher certification program.
The district’s On the Rise Academy, which helps DPSCD employees gain teacher certification, continues to expand its enrollment in its third year. An estimated 122 fellows are in the program, spread out across 45 schools, Vitti said, primarily elementary schools, where there’s a great need.
In other business, the board approved a contract extension for Beyond Basics, which provides tutoring services in reading, and signed off on changes to the student code of conduct that make it easier for school officials to suspend students.
Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Micah Walker is a reporter for BridgeDetroit, where she covers arts, culture, and education. Contact Micah at email@example.com.
Correction: August 14, 2023: This story has been updated to correct the end of the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ latest contract with the Detroit Public Schools Community District.