On Thursday, another dire announcement was made concerning teacher layoffs, as the Detroit Public Schools announced that they are sending notices to all 5,714 of their teachers due to declining enrollment and budget deficits. The district is also sending non-renewal notices to 248 administrators.
Over the past 10 years, Detroit’s population has dropped so drastically that its current population matches its population in 1910. Interestingly, this was two years after Henry Ford’s Model T debuted. This decline in population has obviously effected student enrollment as well. The statistics are pretty staggering: the current enrollment is about 73,000, which is a drop of more than 83,000 students over the same 10 years.
When these dire figures are coupled with a $327 million deficit in the school system’s $994 million budget, it paints a pretty desperate picture for Detroit Public Schools.
While it is unlikely that all of these teachers will actually lose their jobs, the notices needed to be sent out in order to comply with the union contract. The effective date of the layoffs is July 29.
A statement from the district said, “The timeliness of the process allows for ample preparation so that the district can assess staffing needs to create a smooth transition for the start of the school year.”
The district also warned the Detroit Federation of Teachers that Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager who was appointed 2 years ago to get Detroit’s schools on a firmer financial footing, has the power through a law known as Public Act 4 to reject, modify, or terminate collective bargaining agreements. And he has said he “fully intends to use the authority” that this law grants him to unilaterally modify the collective bargaining agreement with the union starting May 17, 2011.
Public Act 4 was passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by the governor of Michigan in March. This is one heck of a law giving emergency managers like Bobb far-reaching powers to tear up existing union contracts and fire elected officials in an effort to solve a financial emergency.
This latest move is the next phase of Bobb’s plan to cut spending; he has already closed some schools and laid off workers.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers called Bobb’s plan to ignore the contract a “backdoor attempt” to bypass seniority. The current contract was signed in 2009, and it contained $90 million in cost cuts. The union expects Bobb to honor that agreement.
“It was heralded and praised then, he’ll have to live with it now,” said Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
But the bottom line is that this new Michigan law gives Robert Bobb a wide berth with which to make decisions. If the contract can be torn up under Public Act 4, and seniority can be overlooked, which people would an emergency financial manager most likely cut first? Hmmm…where would a district make the greatest financial gain? By laying off a newer teacher or a teacher with 20 or more years and a masters?
In a school system the size of Detroit’s, how likely is it that the emergency financial manager, who was hired just two years ago, will have a lot of personal knowledge of the teachers in each school and their job performance and commitment? My guess is that the choices Bobb will make will have little to do with the quality of the teacher and much more to do with the quantity of their paycheck.
And this is the problem with completely removing seniority from the formula. District cuts should not be made based on whose paychecks are biggest and will save the district the most money. If seniority is not going to be a factor in cuts like Detroit faces, then job performance and commitment better be. Otherwise, this district’s problems aren’t going away any time soon.