Detroit teachers see pay increases and more worker protections as part of tentative deal

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, speaks during a media briefing Friday, May 24.
Detroit Federation of Teachers president Terrence Martin said union members will vote on whether to ratify the one-year, tentative agreement Tuesday. As part of the agreement, the union secured pay increases for teachers and bonuses for long-term substitutes and retirees returning to the district. Photo taken May 24, 2019. (Lori Higgins)

Detroit teachers reached a tentative agreement with the Detroit school district that could result in a one-year contract that includes pay raises and bonuses if teachers ratify it on Tuesday. 

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.

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Terrence Martin said union leaders will discuss the tentative agreement with members on Tuesday. 

“A vote will take place via secret ballot following the meeting,” he said in a statement. 

The 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.” 

“This agreement is less about the reopening of schools and more about a continuing commitment to raise teacher salaries to continue to retain and recruit teachers,” superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement. 

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. (Steps set the salaries of teachers based on years of experience and education level.) The district will also increase the minimum pay of all DFT hourly employees who are not on steps to $15. 

As announced earlier this year, salaries for teachers hired for the 2020-21 school year will increase to $51,071, and 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. 

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.

Recruiting and retaining teachers will be crucial, Vitti said, as most veteran teachers are in the process of retiring. Vitti said about 94% of teachers returned to work this year. Last year about 90% returned. 

College graduates will be allowed to teach in the district while earning their teaching certification as part of the district’s “Pathways Program.” A Pathways candidate with a bachelor’s degree will have a starting salary of $38,500.

Teacher mentors are helping newly hired teachers build a positive learning culture at their schools through one-on-one meetings and professional development activities. This initiative began last year, but is now part of the tentative agreement. 

These teachers will be selected based on the number of new teachers at each school, a new teacher’s assigned grade level and subject area, and principal input. These mentors will receive a $500 stipend and additional pay for attending training workshops outside of regular work hours.

Special education teachers who volunteer to be a lead teacher will receive a $3,000 stipend for the 2020-21 school year. These teachers will work with their school’s special education staff to schedule meetings and ensure the school complies with students’ specialized education plans. 

The district is also bolstering student engagement efforts. 

Teachers and deans of culture can apply for the positions of school equity lead and civic literacy club advisor. The school equity leads will help support student learning needs at their schools, and will be required to attend antiracism training. This position pays a one-year, $1,500 stipend. The civic literacy club advisor will help register students to vote and support other civic engagement projects. These advisors will receive a $1,000 stipend.

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

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