Thousands of Detroit teachers called in sick on Monday, forcing all but three of the city’s 97 public schools to cancel classes for the day.
The “sickout” — something Michigan teachers do to get around a state law making it illegal for them to go on strike — was organized after teachers found out that the Detroit Public School district is planning to cut off their paychecks next month.
DPS emergency manager Steven Rhodes broke the news in a meeting with the Detroit Federation of Teachers this past Saturday. Rhodes told the union that unless the State Legislature approves additional emergency funding, the district simply won’t have the money to pay its teachers after June 30.
Needless to say, Detroit’s teachers were outraged, and with good reason. For one, the money on those summer paychecks is already-earned salary: money that the teachers made during the school year.
Roughly two-thirds of Detroit’s teachers signed up for a payment plan that spreads their salary out over the entire year (so that they keep getting paychecks during the summer, even if they aren’t working). Those teachers feel like they’re being unfairly penalized for the district’s poor money management.
Many teachers also feel like they were intentionally misled by DPS and state officials. Last month, the Legislature allocated $48.7 million to keep the district running through the end of June. Some teachers say that they were told this money would cover their summer salaries as well, though Rhodes denies this claim.
This isn’t the first time that Detroit teachers have staged a sickout protest. Just a few months ago, teachers in the Motor City organized a series of sickouts to protest the decrepit conditions of the schools themselves.
Of course, all these issues come back to one problem: money. DPS is currently operating under a $515-million deficit, and while a $715-million rescue package was approved by the State Senate in March, the proposal is still being hotly debated in the House, and it could be months before a final agreement is reached.
Until then, Detroit’s teachers will be forced to wait and wonder about whether or not they’ll get their paychecks this summer.