A pay boost is on the way for Detroit teachers after contentious negotiations make way for tentative pact

Detroit teachers at the top of the pay scale will get a 4% pay increase, while other members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers also would see salary boosts, as part of a tentative agreement between the union and the school district.

The cost to the district is $23 million.

The tentative agreement wraps up more than five months of negotiations that became combative over the issue of how the district would provide pay bumps for teachers. The union had advocated for a salary increase for all of its members, while the district wanted to use a combination of pay increases for the teachers at the top and bonuses for others.

The pay boost for teachers at the top would for the first time in a decade put their salaries above what they were making before the days of emergency management — when  teachers had their pay cut 10%. More than 60% of the district’s teachers are at the top of the salary schedule.

Terrence Martin, the president of the union that represents teachers and other school employees, announced the tentative agreement Tuesday morning. The union’s executive board approved the agreement Monday night. The union represents about 4,000 school employees.

“This is a good deal. It’s not everything we wanted. But it’s good. It positions us for next year when we go back to the table for full bargaining in the spring of 2020,” Martin said.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the bonuses ($1,500 for all union members, except substitutes) will be paid for through one-time surplus federal funds. The other salary increases “will be funded through re-occurring revenue,” he said.

The union had been pressuring the district to use $140 million in reserve funding. But Vitti argued in May  that the reserve fund is one-time money and could create a “funding hole the following year,” if used on salaries.

In a statement Tuesday, Vitti said an important part of the effort to rebuild the district is paying teachers competitively.

“We are fighting every day to make our teachers the highest paid in America and strategically stretching our limited and inequitable resources to make that happen in a way that is fiscally responsible so our district never faces the financial disasters of the past,” Vitti said.

He noted that with the tentative agreement, top teachers’ pay would rise from $65,265 to $73,000. Ten years ago, the top salary was $72,516, Martin said.

“We have done this with a balanced budget and solid reserves,” Vitti said. “Several people doubted that this could happen again in DPSCD. We did it and will only continue to focus on improving teacher pay into the future.”

Once final, the agreement will bring to an end contentious bargaining over salary for the third year of a contract that was approved in 2017. That contract, which expires in a year, included a wage reopener for its third year. Teachers won’t ratify the agreement, since it’s part of an existing contract, but Martin said they will be able to weigh in.

When asked what happens if teachers are overwhelmingly against the tentative agreement, Martin said it would “inform us about where we need to take things for next year.”

“But we’ve already had an opportunity to talk to a number of folks who are excited, who are happy,” Martin said.

Hundreds of union members attended the May meeting of the district’s school board, urging the board to increase their pay.

The district’s school board and the Detroit Financial Review Commission, which has some financial oversight over the district and must approve all union contracts, must OK the agreement.

Here’s how other members of the union would benefit from the agreement:

  • Teachers who aren’t at the top of the salary schedule will receive step increases that could mean they’ll bring home between $1,300 and $1,800 more in pay a year. Unlike an across-the-board pay increase, step increases go to lower-paid teachers moving up on the salary schedule based on years of experience and education attainment.
  • Those who aren’t on a salary schedule — positions such as attendance agents, substitutes, special instructors, academic interventionists, and education techs — will receive a 3% annual pay increase.
  • Ancillary staff such as counselors and social workers will get credit for experience they earned before they were hired by the school district, which will boost their pay. The district honored outside experience for teachers last year, but ancillary staff weren’t included.
  • All full-time members of the union will receive a one-time, $1,500 bonus. This does not include substitute teachers.

Vitti, in his Tuesday statement, warned that efforts to improve teacher pay in the future “will hit a ceiling without revenue increases and a clear commitment by state lawmakers to ensure an equitable distribution of resources for all students in Michigan, regardless of zip code.”