Detroit Public Schools Teachers Talk

With all the DPS drama coming to light this year, we spoke to a couple teachers to get their perspective.

y now, we're all aware of the sickouts and protests, we've all heard of million-dollar debts and we've all seen social-media photos splattered across the internet of moldy surfaces and dusty, broken desks.

It's no secret that the Detroit Public School District is in trouble, with a growing deficit of $515 million. In addition to the being in hot water over the Flint crisis after serving as the city's emergency manager, DPS EM Darnell Earley is facing the heat of accumulating the school district's debt. Earley has announced he would be stepping down at the end of this month.

Gov. Rick Snyder says he plans to appoint a transition leader to put into place a restructuring plan for the district, but DPS teachers are fed up with more emergency management.

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"Prior to them, regardless of our other issues, we were in budget. We worked within budget," Cass Technical High School teacher Lisa Reynolds tells BLAC. "We’ve cut as far as we can possibly cut. Theirs no more cuts to cut. At some point, the district has to stabilize for a sustainable future."

"They need to put the right people in charge because the emergency management system has not worked," says Erika Jones, another teacher at Cass. "He just caused us to have this bankruptcy and this deficit. We didn't have this problem prior to this, so they just have to come up with a better solution."

Jones was among the teachers who received injunctions from the district in an attempt to stop the teacher sickouts. 

"They're wasting time and money trying to go to court instead of just sitting down trying to come up with solutions," Jones says. "Our contract is up June 30th and the district is still claiming they may be bankrupt by April 30th, so I just think people need to continue to put pressure to come up with a solution and figure out where our money has gone."

WDIV reporter Rod Meloni reports that the district gets about $14,000 per pupil enrolled – about 46,000 students — in DPS.

"That's somewhere like $650 million on count day," Jones says, referring to a day when students who come to class are "counted" toward total enrollment figures. "So even if we do have a deficit of $550 million dollars, I'm not understanding the mathematics behind what's happening.

"I'm hoping that the next thing they'll do is an internal audit. I think there has been a misappropriation of funding," she adds.

One controversial use of funds, teachers say, is the district's one-year, $6 million contract with Marzano, a consulting company that provides professional development to teachers, but DPS has yet to establish a new contract with the teachers themselves.

But its not all bad, Reynolds says. Since the district has garnered media attention, she has seen some changes, but not enough.

"The facilities group responsible for maintenance and cleanliness has come around more often, but my building wasn't one that had those severe types of issues," Reynolds says. "Seems like they’re more attentive, they're checking on things, that their presence has increased."

The district also called a meeting with the teachers, which Reynolds says has never happened before, to discuss their plans and vision for DPS.

"It could've been done differently, but they at least came and presented what they're doing, what they're working on. They just hadn't prepared to answer our questions, which ended up happening anyway," Reynolds said. "I think it's a step, but it still needs a lot of work,"

When students took part in the movement by staging student walkouts earlier this year, Reynolds says their voice was a critically important part of the movement.

"From the students that came and talked to me, they were feeling as if they weren't being asked the how they felt," Reynolds says. "They support the teachers because they actually know that teachers come early, stay late, use their own resources, the kids know this because this is their experience."

"We have amazing things going on in DPS that always get overshadowed," Reynolds says. "We're so concerned with the debt and the negativity, but there are a lot of really great things going on in spite of those things."

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