Detroit Public Schools Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he will use Michigan’s emergency financial management law to modify or void existing collecting bargaining agreements with the Detroit Federation of Teachers. On Friday, he issued layoff notices to all 5,466 DFT members, said he expected to close as many as 25 public schools in June, will issue more layoff notices in the coming weeks to the other bargaining units and will send nonrenewal notices to 250 administrators.
WASHINGTON—Everyone understands that Detroit and its school system are facing a serious financial crisis, but the key to solving it in the best interest of students is to work with—not around—teachers, school staff, parents and others. Robert Bobb’s district-wide layoff of every Detroit teacher, coupled with threats to unilaterally modify or void the contract between the district and the teachers union and lay off other school employees, is shocking and disregards a commitment he made just 16 months ago to transform schools collaboratively. The approach used in the 2009 collective bargaining negotiations resulted in a progressive education reform plan and cost savings. There is no greater attack on a community than one made on its schools, and Bobb has launched an attack that will be devastating for kids and the community.
Detroit teachers and school staff agreed—in the 2009-10 school year, in the midst of the worst effects of the great recession—to help stabilize the city by making extraordinary financial sacrifices and implementing progressive provisions to raise academic achievement. The groundbreaking teacher contract represented a shared commitment to transforming Detroit schools by developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation system with peer assistance and review, providing meaningful professional staff development, implementing research-based “best practices” programs at priority (low-performing) schools, and other programs to improve teacher quality and boost student achievement. The contract also empowered teachers and staff to choose transformative programs for their schools. The advantage of this approach is exemplified by the United Way Venture Fund, a highly successful program to turn around high schools.
The school district and the Detroit Federation of Teachers agreed in a covenant to “jointly, with all our resources, commit to transform the Detroit Public Schools.” Bobb now appears poised to turn his back on the covenant and smart investments by making cuts that will result in huge class sizes; an end to neighborhood schools; a halt to genuine and promising education reforms; and silencing teachers, staff and parents when it comes to having a say regarding the education of Detroit students. The school district owes it to the community to resolve its budget problems, as it did in December 2009, in a way that doesn’t abandon its kids and its educators.