In Detroit Monday morning, the teachers were the absent ones.
Nearly every public school in the city was forced to cancel classes Monday due to a coordinated teacher sickout in protest of working conditions. Ninety-four of the 97 institutions serving 47,000 students had to shut down because so many educators called in sick, school district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski confirmed in an email to the Associated Press.
The sickout was organized by the Detroit Federation of Teachers in response to an announcement Saturday by Detroit Public Schools transition manager Steven Rhodes that without further funding from Michigan, the district can't afford to pay employees after June 30.
Detroit Federation of Teachers interim President Ivy Bailey said in a statement that she asked Rhodes to guarantee that he'd figure out a way to pay the city's 2,600 teachers. But, she said, he couldn't.
“There’s a basic agreement in America: When you put in a day’s work, you’ll receive a day’s pay. DPS is breaking that deal," Bailey said. "Teachers want to be in the classroom giving children a chance to learn and reach their potential. Unfortunately, by refusing to guarantee that we will be paid for our work, DPS is effectively locking our members out of the classrooms."
Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan, which saw widespread sickouts earlier this year as teachers protested their schools' deteriorating conditions, complaining about overcrowded classes, broken heating systems, moldy rooms and rat infestations, according to ABC News. At the time, officials estimated the district — which reportedly has $3.5 billion in debt — could pay teachers only through April 8. The state approved sending the schools $48.7 million just before the deadline.
But Rhodes said this weekend there'd be "no funds available" to pay employees after June unless the Legislature passes a $715 million education package, Click on Detroit reported. This includes teachers on a biweekly pay cycle that spreads out their earnings throughout summer breaks.
"Teachers in Detroit have sacrificed greatly to ensure our schools stay open and our kids have the opportunity to learn. But working without pay is the straw that breaks the camel’s back," Bailey said. "Teachers have mortgage payments, utility bills, grocery bills. Being paid for their work isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity."
Rhodes released a statement of his own late Sunday acknowledging the teachers' frustration but labeling the sickouts an "unfortunate" and "counterproductive" way to address the issue. "I am on record as saying that I cannot in good conscience ask anyone to work without pay. Wages that are owed to teachers should be paid," he said, according to MLive.com. "I am, however, confident that the legislature will support the request that will guarantee that teachers will receive the pay that is owed to them. The DFT's choice for a drastic call to action was not necessary."
The Detroit Free Press reported that the teachers union planned an emergency meeting Tuesday to consider its next steps.