Hundreds of Detroit teachers took their argument for higher wages to members of the district’s school board with a rally Tuesday night.
Many of the protesters were wearing red shirts and carrying signs that said things like “Rise up the wages for DPSCD educators.”
The “rise up” was a riff on the district’s “Students rise. We all rise” slogan. Meanwhile, red has become the color teachers across the nation have worn to demonstrate teacher solidarity. The union and district are negotiating salary increases for the final year of the current three-year teacher contract.
“It’s not over. We have a long road,” said Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
The current contract called for salary increases of about 7% over the first two years. It included a provision that the two sides come together to negotiate wages for the third year.
Martin claimed victory in the union’s fight against a calendar for the upcoming school year that members said violated their contract. The district backed away from the calendar the board approved April 16 after backlash from teachers — and after union leaders said they don’t support the calendar.
But Martin, during a demonstration held minutes before the school board’s budget hearing, said the union is hoping to send a message to board members.
“We want real raises. We want step increases,” Martin said.
He said union members supported the push for an elected, empowered school board during the years the district was under the control of state-appointed emergency managers. The district got that empowered board back in 2016.
“Now, it’s time for them to step up to help us,” Martin said.
It was a message board members heard over and over again as dozens of people — most of them teachers — spoke during the public comment period of the monthly school board meeting that followed the budget hearing.
“We voted for you. We supported you. And now we’re asking you to support us,” one teacher told the board.
The meeting wasn’t just an opportunity for teachers to call for raises en masse. Many of the teachers raised concerns about other major issues. One teacher complained about a relatively new student code of conduct that was designed to improve the culture in schools. She said, however, that it was ineffective and “has not improved climate and culture.” There were a number of complaints about the district’s new curriculum in language arts and math for elementary and middle school students, which has been a challenge for teachers and left many with mixed opinions. One of them was a little boy who asked, “Who thought the new reading program would be good for children like me?”
But most of the comments kept coming back to salary issues.
Vitti said during the budget hearing, as he has said several times before, that the budget for the 2019-20 school year includes pay increases for all employees. That includes step increases for some employees and bonuses. Vitti has said he wants to ensure teachers at the top of the pay scale receive pay increases to get their salaries back to levels that existed before emergency emergency managers took control of the district. He’s also pushed for bonuses for others.
The union, though, wants all teachers to receive salary increases, and not bonuses.
Teacher Steve Conn said the only way the district will have a stable teaching staff is to give raises to all teachers. Anything else is “a complete betrayal of the young people.”
Vitti has argued that the district is hampered by inadequate funding from the state and has pushed teachers to take their fight to Lansing lawmakers.
“We’re going to take our argument to the state,” Martin said. “We know our worth.”
Latrell Maxwell, 12, was among those who attended the demonstration Tuesday night. He held a sign that said, “Working extra days does not = salary increase.” The sign referred to what had been part of the proposed calendar: an extra five work days for teachers to undergo professional development. Latrell said he came to the meeting with his mother, a parent action leader, to support teachers.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are as students,” said Latrell, a student at Paul Robeson/Malcolm X Academy.
Mitzi Davis, a second-grade teacher at Thirkell Elementary School, said she is a dedicated teacher and said teachers need to feel dedication from others.
“They need to respect our teachers,” Davis said.
“They need to treat us like we are professionals,” said Lynn Huddleston, a fifth-grade English language arts teacher at Thirkell.