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Teachers Shut Down Nearly All Detroit Public Schools In Sick-Out Protest

May 3, 2016

By: Sarah Cwiek

Source: npr.org

Nearly all of Detroit’s 97 public schools were closed Monday because too many teachers called in sick. Teachers there have known for months that Detroit Public Schools will run out of money after June, unless lawmakers approve hundreds of millions of additional dollars. But anger boiled over when they found out they might be working for free right now.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Nearly all of Detroit’s 97 public schools were closed today because too many teachers called in sick. While the teachers have known for months that without more state aid, Detroit public schools will run out of money at the end of June, what they didn’t know until last week is that they might not be getting fully paid for the work that they have done this school year. Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek reports.

SARAH CWIEK, BYLINE: Michigan lawmakers approved almost $50 million in March to keep Detroit schools open at least through the current school year. Teachers union officials expected that money would cover all payroll expenses for the entire school year, including the many teachers who get paid year-round. But last Friday, district officials told union leaders that’s not the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No pay.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No pay.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And if we don’t get it…

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Shut it down.

CWIEK: Teachers, staff and supporters filled the streets outside district headquarters this morning. More than half the staff called in sick, forcing schools to close. Christine Goletz is a speech pathologist at Detroit’s Academy of the Americas. She says teachers have been incredibly patient, absorbing cuts as a succession of state-appointed emergency managers fail to stabilize the district’s finances.

CHRISTINE GOLETZ: The rubber has to hit the road, and they need to get us stabilized already if that truly is the plan.

CWIEK: Goletz says being asked now to wait while the state figures out if teachers might get paid is just too much.

GOLETZ: It’s ridiculous. I’m at the point where – I’m actually from Canada. I’m thinking about moving back there because I can’t take it anymore here in Michigan.

CWIEK: It’s not clear yet when enough teachers will return to their classrooms. Many want guarantees of full pay and a forensic audit of the district’s finances. Courtney Valentine teaches at Detroit International Academy for Young Women.

COURTNEY VALENTINE: It’s really about the kids. And the teachers are not the ones stealing the money. The state of Michigan is the ones stealing the money, and we really need to find out where that money is.

CWIEK: But Michigan State leadership is less than impressed by the teachers’ protest. Republican State House Speaker Kevin Cotter calls the sick-out a cheap political stunt. But in Detroit, even parents are largely backing the teachers this time. They think that Lansing has no room to talk about political stunts when after years of state control, lawmakers can’t even guarantee Detroit schools will open in the fall. For NPR News, I’m Sarah Cwiek in Detroit.