Detroit teachers at top salary tier would receive pay boost under tentative contract agreement

Students and a teacher raise their hands in a classroom.
In a tentative agreement between the Detroit school district and its teachers union, employees at the top of the salary schedule will see a 6% pay increase. (Alex Zimmerman / Chalkbeat)

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Teachers at the top of the pay scale could earn a base salary of roughly $74,000 this school year, a 6% increase, under a tentative agreement this week between the Detroit Public Schools Community District and its main teachers union.

The agreement includes no pay increase for the lower levels of the scale, but all of those teachers would move up a step, which means their pay would go up roughly 2.4%. And if the agreement is ratified, the district would give all teachers a retention bonus, as well as extra pay for hard-to-staff positions and veteran employees.

The tentative agreement with the Detroit Federation of Teachers was reached Sunday evening, hours before an extension to a previous contract ended, and a week before the Aug. 28 start of school for DPSCD students. Monday was the first day of school for staff.

Voting on the proposed contract began Monday night following a presentation to DFT members. Voting was initially set to end on Thursday, but has been extended to noon Friday because of an email delivery issue, according to DFT president Lakia Wilson-Lumpkins. 

The school district and union were keeping the terms confidential pending ratification, according to a union statement, but Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the contract terms.

In addition to teachers at the top of the scale, academic interventionists are set to receive a 6% salary increase. DPSCD officials intend to use part of a philanthropic donation from billionaire MacKenzie Scott to hire 73 academic interventionists at select schools to work one-on-one or in small groups with students who need math or reading intervention.

Bonuses negotiated under the previous contract will return, including a $4,500 longevity bonus for teachers with more than 15 years of service, a $2,000 retention bonus for all members, and a $2,000 bonus for members at the top step.

Other carryovers from the previous contract include a $15,000 bonus for special education teachers, on top of last year’s. 

District officials had said they would prioritize pay increases and bonuses as they finalized a $1.138 billion budget for the new school year that had to account for the expiration of federal COVID relief aid.

The budget cut and consolidated roughly 300 positions, including jobs in the district’s central office, as well as school-level positions such as school culture facilitators, college transition advisers, kindergarten paraprofessionals, deans, and assistant principals.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has argued for years that Detroit teachers should be among the highest-paid educators in the state, and has made increasing pay a priority — especially for new teachers. The last contract set a $51,000 starting salary for teachers.

During this year’s negotiations, Wilson-Lumpkins said it was important to raise pay for members at the top of the salary schedule. 

Some teachers weren’t happy with the results. 

“I’m a little bit frustrated,” said Julie Hughes, an English teacher at Western International High School and a DFT member. Hughes voted no on the agreement, arguing that many had called for a 20% salary increase for all members, as well as significant changes to the district’s leave policy.

“After almost a year of negotiations this is what they come back with — 6% and some bonuses? … We wanted multiple things to be addressed.”

She added: “We were expecting something other than our old contract.”

Yolanda King, a 20-year district teacher and an organizing fellow with the teachers union, voted yes. 

“We’re obviously not where we should be, but I feel that they fought and they got the most fair contract that they could get at this time,” said King. “We’ve gained every year since we’ve come out of emergency management. It looks good and it feels good to see the increases every year.”

The union and district agreed to work toward a new salary schedule to be implemented in 2024-25. 

Negotiations for the next contract are set to start this fall. Among the likely discussion points are the newly restored collective-bargaining rights for teachers. Under legislation enacted this summer, teachers can once again bargain on issues such as performance evaluations, staff reductions, teacher placements, discipline, and classroom observations.

“Actually being able to have some say so in the evaluation is a very big deal for teachers in the state of Michigan,” King said. “That’s some of the things that have affected all of us.” 

Here are some highlights of the tentative contract:

  • All DFT members at the top of the pay scale would receive a 6% salary increase in 2023-24. That would mean a member at the top who has a bachelor’s degree would earn a base salary of $73,922, while one with a master’s degree would earn $86,000. 
  • Academic interventionists would also receive a 6% salary increase, to $42,883 from $40,456. 
  • Members on all other levels of the salary schedule would advance one step, earning them higher salaries. On average, employees can expect a 2.4% salary increase when they move up a step, excluding the step to the top tier.
  • All retirees who returned to work for the district would be placed at the top step of their pay scale after confirmation of their years of experience. They would also be eligible to receive the same bonuses and benefits as other DFT members in their position.
  • Special education teachers in some of the hardest-to-staff disciplines would receive a $15,000 bonus.
  • Teachers with 15 or more years of service with the district would receive a one-time $4,500 longevity payment. DFT members not on the teachers’ salary schedule, but with the same length of service, would receive $2,000.
  • DFT members who are nurses, therapists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, pathologists, and consultants would receive a $2,000 bonus.
  • All union members, including long-term substitutes, would receive a retention bonus of $2,000. Day-to-day substitutes would receive a $1,000 bonus.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

Correction: August 24, 2023: This story has been updated to correct the type of financial reward special education teachers would receive under the tentative agreement reached by the Detroit Federation of Teachers and the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

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