Michigan Lawmakers Propose Fix for Illegal Strikes by Detroit Government Teachers

Published March 3, 2016

Detroit government school teachers have been illegally walking off the job in an attempt to force the state government to increase capital improvement and entitlement spending in the state’s largest school district.

Beginning in January, an unspecified number of teachers have been calling off work on prearranged days. On one day in January, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) administrators were forced to cancel all classes in the district’s 64 schools because a majority of teachers called in sick.

In response to the strikes, state Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Township) has offered a bill that would shorten the deadline for the state Employment Relations Commission to conduct hearings on labor complaints from 60 days to two days. It would also empower the state superintendent of schools to revoke the licenses of government school teachers found guilty of engaging in improper labor practices.

The bill, Senate Bill 713, was approved by the Senate Education Committee and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Would Create Stronger Safeguards

Pavlov says DPS has had problems for a long time, and three governors have tried and failed to fix them.

“Strikes by teachers are illegal in Michigan, and the previous law preventing teachers from striking was not strong enough,” Pavlov told School Reform News. “Otherwise, the teachers wouldn’t continue to strike, so that’s why I introduced this legislation. There are lots of avenues to discuss bad buildings, but locking students out is not one of them.”

Pavlov says DPS has been riddled with problems for years, and he says parents know it.

“Families have been leaving the Detroit Public Schools because they are not seeing a value there,” Pavlov said. “They’re seeking value through school choice. Not that long ago, the district had about 150,000 students. … Now there are less than 50,000. That means 100,000 students have found better opportunities through school choice.”

‘Serious Financial Mismanagement’

Ben DeGrow, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says Detroit’s government school system is on the verge of bankruptcy.

“The state has had to step in on two separate occasions, for extended periods, to address the district’s serious financial mismanagement,” DeGrow said. “But overall, emergency managers have not been able to stem the spiraling tide of declining enrollment and unstable finances. In fact, under the two most recent emergency managers, deficits have continued to grow and academic results have remained rock-bottom. The district is in desperate financial straits, with many forecasting DPS on the course to bankruptcy before the school year ends.

“The organized sick-outs are symptomatic of a deeper dysfunction within the district and how the schools are managed,” DeGrow said. “At its best, this bill will take away the incentive for adult employees and interest groups to punish students for the failures of crisis-driven policymaking. But something much more fundamental needs to be done; [the power must shift] from the district office into the hands of parents demanding better options and opportunities for students.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.