Teachers defy anti-labor guv
Carey and Jerry Goldberg Detroit
Carey is a member of the Detroit Federation of
The Detroit Federation of Teachers and the "reform school"
board appointed by Gov. John Engler announced a tentative
contract Sept. 6 following a militant one-week strike. Two days
later the union members voted to extend the current contract
and return to work pending the outcome of a ratification vote
While details of the agreement are forthcoming, it appears
the teachers beat back the School Board's attempts to replace
across-the-board pay raises with a "merit pay" scheme tied to
performance of individual schools on standardized tests. David
Adamany, the head of the "reform board," said that "merit pay"
still could be imposed without union approval.
The temporary agreement includes a 2 percent pay hike for
each year of the contract, but the pay scale still falls below
that paid teachers in Detroit's suburbs.
The tentative agreement does not achieve the rank and file's
central demand to lower class sizes in Detroit's overcrowded
schools by hiring new teachers. Instead, a pilot plan will
lower class sizes in only 21 of the 271 Detroit public
This was the first teacher's strike in Michigan since a
state law imposed draconian penalties on teachers for striking,
including potential fines of one day's pay for each day on
Under Michigan's apartheid-like system of public education,
school districts in urban, mostly African American, and rural
districts receive about half the funding per student as do
districts in the rich, white suburbs. For example, despite its
47-percent child-poverty rate, the Detroit schools receive only
$6,235.60 per student per year under the state formula. In
contrast, the school district for Bloomfield Hills, home to the
Big 3 auto company executives, receives $11,106.25 per
Engler and the state legislature have done all they could to
divert attention from this obvious inequality in school
funding. First they launched a racist attack on the elected
Detroit school board in this African American city, blaming the
board for the crisis in Detroit's schools.
Then the mostly white legislature voted to abolish the
African American Detroit school board and replaced it with a
"reform" board headed by white former Wayne State University
president David Adamany, well-known for his union-busting
attempts at the university.
Now Adamany and the so-called "reform" board are trying to
place the blame for the inadequate public education for
Detroit's youth on the very workers who have been teaching
valiantly for years despite the glaring lack of resources in
Adamany is also trying to impose a new attendance policy on
the teachers. He has even called for a "dress code" for
teachers. The list of take-backs goes on and on.
This approach infuriated Detroit schoolteachers. Many of
these teachers have to spend their own salaries for books and
supplies for the students because the inadequately funded
Detroit schools simply lack the resources to supply these
fundamentals. It's not a question of needing more incentives to
teach well. It's a question of being supplied with the basic
necessities to do the job.
A key demand of the Detroit teachers was that the district
hire 1,000 more teachers in order to cut class sizes that now
range from 35 to 40 students per class to a manageable level.
The teachers also demand wage parity with their suburban
counterparts, so that the Detroit public schools can retain
teachers and provide quality education.
One demand that Adamany, Engler's flunky, has advanced is to
close any schools that fail to meet minimum test standards.
This demand seems connected to Engler's desire to go to a
voucher system to subsidize private and religious schools and
dismantle public education.
On Sept. 3, the Detroit schoolteachers surrounded the school
board building with a demonstration of close to 10,000 teachers
and supporters. Thousands of striking Detroit schoolteachers
led off this year's Labor Day parade, which overall was the
largest and most spirited parade in years.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of the strike, it represents a
giant step toward building the kind of movement needed to
overturn Michigan's apartheid-like system of public education,
and win the right to quality education for all Michigan's
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