83 Detroit schools closed due to sickouts coinciding with Obama visit

Posted at 8:04 AM, Jan 20, 2016

Eighty-three Detroit public schools — or roughly 80% of those in the system — will not be open Wednesday because of “high teacher absences,” the latest instance of teachers and staff calling in sick to call attention to what they see as inadequate funding.

Wednesday was already set to be a big day for Detroit, with President Barack Obama set to be in town.

And Detroit Public Schools expected the staff to take advantage of the spotlight, listing five schools as closed as early as Tuesday and warning that many more could be coming.

Ivy Bailey, interim president of Detroit’s teacher’s union, estimated the doors of “over 30 schools” ultimately would be closed for business Wednesday.

It turns out she vastly underestimated the extent of the sickout.

It’s not only almost triple Bailey’s estimate, but a vast majority of the roughly 100 schools in Detroit’s public school system.

Obama visit

Obama will be in town to tout the resurgence of the U.S. car industry at the Detroit auto show.

But he may see leaflets lying about with pictures of dead rats found at public schools, mildew taking over ceilings and walls, and damage to school buildings. Protesters plan to hand out the fliers to car show attendees to get them to sign a petition to protest conditions in schools.

Two protest rallies will also kick off in the afternoon — one by parents and residents, the other by the teacher’s union.

Governor’s speech

The city’s school crisis has made up to the desk of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who called for change in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

The “time to act is now,” he said. “The Detroit schools are in need of a transformational change,” he told lawmakers.

“The state needs to ensure that a complete failure to educate schoolchildren never again happens to this extent in one of Michigan’s districts.”

The Republican said he wants money spent on debt service — about $1,100 per student — shifted into classroom funding to give teachers what they need to do their jobs.

Managing the debt

A proposal introduced last week in the Legislature would appear to find a way of doing that while handling the school system’s massive $515 million debt.

It would create a second school district within the city that assumes control over all of its schools and students, while leaving the current Detroit Public School system with only the district’s debt, said Republican state Sen. Goeff Hansen, author of the proposal.

“It’s a high priority. It’s an emergency situation,” Hansen said.

About $7,400 of school funding is allocated per student each year. But close to $1,200 of that goes to pay down debt and other costs, Hansen said.

Under the proposal, tax revenue would continue to pay off the debt isolated in the Detroit Public Schools system, but the state would gain room to inject additional funding into the new school system.

Litany of troubles

The proposal may have teachers worried. They are afraid that Detroit Public Schools will go out of existence, teachers’ organizer Bailey said. Funding could run out by April.

Teachers feel pushed over the edge to protest against a litany of resulting troubles.

“It’s because of the lack of respect that has been displayed toward teachers in this district, the hazardous working conditions, oversize classes, lost preparation periods, decrease in pay, increase in health care cost, uncertainty of their future,” Bailey said.

“I could go on and on. Teachers are fed up and have had enough.”

There have been some recent concessions. The school district agreed to demands on staff meetings, sick leave accrual and a labor-management committee on curriculum, the teacher’s union said.

And last week, Mayor Mike Duggan ordered inspections of all the city’s public schools.

Flint water slap

Flack from the drinking water crisis in the city of Flint, involving high levels of lead, is also haunting the emergency manager who has handled the Detroit school crisis.

Darnell Earley was also the emergency manager in Flint, when the city switched its water source in 2014. Earley has said he was not responsible for the decision — only with implementing it after it was approved.

Michigan Senate Democrats took a swipe at him in a tweet: “Crumbling #DPS schools are a direct result of damage that can be done by unelected emergency managers.”

Teachers’ organizer Bailey also complained. “Emergency Management is not working,” she said. “If the goal was to destroy DPS, emergency management has done an excellent job.”