Sweetener

As Detroit’s schools chief celebrates new salaries, veteran teachers may want to give the district a second look

PHOTO: Koby Levin
AuStina Nelson, a 13-year art teacher in Detroit's main district, will receive a raise as part of an amended teacher contract.

Detroit school officials took to the podium on Thursday to trumpet new pay guidelines they hope will help fill 190 teacher vacancies.

And with good reason. A Chalkbeat analysis of the largest Michigan districts found that Detroit now ranks near the middle of the pack in pay for five- and 10-year teachers.

Among the state’s largest districts, 10th-year teacher salaries in Detroit are in the middle of the pack

Salaries for Detroit district teachers with 10 years of experience are in line with salaries for the state’s six largest districts. Source: District contracts.

What’s more, by paying new teachers higher salaries for their prior experience outside the district – part of a $30 million deal with the Detroit Federation of Teachers – Detroit salaries can now compete with salaries in six of the state’s largest districts.

When it comes to pay for experienced teachers, Detroit falls in the middle of the pack, an improvement after years of languishing near the bottom of teacher pay in Michigan. Detroit teachers in their fifth or 10th year now make less than their peers in Utica, Plymouth-Canton, and Ann Arbor – but more than equally experienced teachers in Dearborn and Grand Rapids.

Add full pay for experienced new hires, and the picture brightens. A teacher in Plymouth-Canton with 10 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree makes $60,780. In previous years, a move to Detroit would have meant a pay cut of thousands of dollars.

Under the newly amended contract? The teacher would make $60,169.

“This will finally empower our principals … to actively recruit veteran teachers to come back to Detroit,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a press conference Thursday morning. Now teachers “have the financial incentive — and the respect — to come back,” he said.

And by fully recognizing prior teaching experience, the main Detroit district sets itself apart from similarly sized districts such as Dearborn and Plymouth-Canton. Dearborn gives new teachers credit for only two years of experience outside the district. Plymouth-Canton credits teachers for no more than five years of work.

The change is part of a contract amendment designed to make up for years of pay freezes — and aid the district’s race to fill vacant teaching posts. Without enough certified teachers, some schools have been forced to cram 40 or 50 students into a classroom or fill vacancies with poorly trained substitutes.

The amendment had the support of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. It was approved by the Detroit school board last week and was approved on Thursday by a state board charged with financial oversight of the main Detroit district.

Among the state’s largest districts, 5th-year teacher salaries in Detroit are in the middle of the pack

Under previous union contracts, incoming teachers could be compensated for only two years of teaching experience outside the district, a policy Vitti has blamed for the district’s struggle to make new hires.

The issue was highlighted when schools that had been under the control of a state-run recovery district were reintegrated into the main district last summer. Longtime teachers faced steep pay cuts under the new contract. In one extreme case, a veteran music teacher left the district rather than accept a $30,000 pay cut.

The amended contract will go into effect this summer, meaning veteran teachers can be hired at higher salaries in time for next school year. Vitti pegged the total cost of the payments at $30 million, most of which is included in this year’s budget. Teachers at the top of the pay scale — roughly two-thirds of Detroit teachers — will also receive bonuses.

The deal also repays current district teachers for four years of pay freezes, retroactively acknowledging the experience they gained with the district.

AuStina Nelson had been teaching for 10 years when she was hired as an arts instructor at Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School three years ago. Under the previous contract, she was credited with only two years of experience. Now she’ll receive full credit, which translates to a raise of more than $10,000.

“This is good news,” Nelson said after a press conference in her school’s library. “We’re finally being recognized.”

Timely Decision

Detroit school board approves 2018-19 academic calendar after union agrees to changes

PHOTO: Hero Images
Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers agreed to calendar changes to do what's best for students.

The Detroit school board approved this year’s academic calendar Tuesday night, hours after Detroit’s main district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement.

The calendar approval, which comes just three weeks before the first day of school, includes some changes to the original calendar spelled out in the teachers’ contract.  The new calendar was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and it was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

After discussion with the district, the union signed an agreement on the changes, known as a memorandum of understanding.

The calendar eliminates one-hour-early releases on Wednesdays and moves the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also will move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the situation was not ideal, and he realizes that some teachers may already have made plans for the week of April 19-26.

“Hopefully, our teachers realize they should be there,” he said. But if vacation plans were already made and can be changed, “that’s good.”

“We will be prepared as much as possible to have substitutes and even district staff, if it’s necessary,” he said.

Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers aren’t pleased about the agreement.

“No, we were not happy with the change,” Bailey said.

Addressing a question from board member LaMar Lemmons, Bailey said the calendar changes “did constitute an unfair labor practice” because, among other reasons, teachers lost preparation days with the new calendar.

“We are not happy, but we are here for students,” Bailey said. “We understand this is what’s right for students. We put students first, and we are going to work it out.”

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT.

Other changes to the calendar include eliminating scheduled parent-teacher conferences on October 31 because of the Halloween celebration.

calendar quandary

Detroit district and union hammer out last-second agreement on school calendar before vote at tonight’s board meeting

A screenshot of the proposed academic calendar that has caused concern among union officials.

Detroit’s main school district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement Tuesday afternoon after tensions arose over the seemingly routine approval of this year’s academic calendar.

The proposed calendar includes some changes to the one spelled out in the teachers’ contract. It was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the union, and the same calendar was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

With just three weeks until the first day of school, parents and teachers are relying on the calendar to make travel plans and childcare arrangements.

No details were available about the agreement.

Ken Coleman, a spokesman for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the agreement was resolved before the meeting started, but couldn’t provide further details. District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said she expected the calendar to go to a vote without opposition from the union.

Coleman said earlier on Tuesday that a vote to approve the calendar could violate the teachers’ contract.

Union leaders were surprised last week when Chalkbeat reported that the board was considering a calendar that was different from the one approved in their contract.

The proposed calendar would eliminate one-hour-early releases on Wednesday and move the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also would move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT, according to school board documents.

Union officials have said that they had no major objections to the contents of the calendar, only to the way in which it was approved.

Correction: Aug. 14, 2018 This story has been corrected to show that the union and district have reached an agreement about the academic calendar.  A previous version of the story, under the headline “An 11th-hour disagreement over an academic calendar could be settled at tonight’s school board meeting,” referenced a pending agreement when an agreement had in fact been reached.