Two weeks before it must submit a balanced budget to the state of Michigan, the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education voted to pink slip 48 teachers and two support personnel at its regular Monday night meeting.
The cuts were made to offset $7 million in categorical at-risk and bilingual learning losses at the district–a figure many district officials hoped would change as budget talks continued in Lansing.
District Supt. Brian Whiston said the categorical versus general fund budget numbers have caused confusion in regard to the layoffs.
“We always said that if there were cuts in categorical funding, there would be job losses,” he said.
The layoffs will come from several buildings and at all student levels, and have been organized by seniority as specified in the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which represents 1,200 teachers.
Though the teacher layoffs were mentioned only a handful of times at the meeting, the fact that 50 people will lose their jobs weighed heavily on the board, said Trustee Mary Lane.
“I hate having to do it,” she said.
Chris Sipperly, the president of the Dearborn Federation of Teachers, said some cuts were expected among the teacher’s ranks.
“You can’t negotiate how many layoffs will occur," she said, "and we don’t like to see any layoffs."
Still, Sipperly said a $7 million loss in categorical funding was difficult to overcome–but some positions could be restored if the district can prove its use of “best practices” backed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
If the district can meet four of the following five requirements, it could receive $100 more in per-pupil funding, flooding an additional $2 million into district coffers. The district must prove it has:
- Obtained competitive bidding for at least one non-instructional service
- Established a financial report card that is available to residents
- Shared at least one service with another district
- Have employees contribute a certain amount toward their own health care
- Required the district to be the policy holder of the employee insurance policy
It remains unclear if the district can meet the final two requirements because it recently for its teachers to the DFT, which will manage the policy. The new health care trust will be managed by the Michigan AFL-CIO Public Employee Trust, which will be the policy holder.
The district will save money on the plan by contributing a fixed amount of $997 per month, per employee to the plan for the life of the labor contract.
Whiston said he believes the district will meet the final two requirements in spirit, if not technically.
“We’re getting a lot of congratulations on our health care agreement, and there are a lot of people in Lansing that think we should get the additional funding,” he said.
Business Services Director Bob Cipriano said the district’s lobbyist and the DFT lobbyist are in Lansing trying to drum up support for the funds.
Even if the extra $100 per student is granted, the district will only be able to restore 18 positions–if all parties agree to re-hire teachers. Bargaining units that have agreed to contractual pay reductions could also be restored if the district receives the funding.
Big Classes a Concern
The staff cuts come at a time when class sizes are getting bigger at the schools.
At –where one teacher will be laid off–nine classrooms have tallied more than 30 students, said Kathleen McCormick, a teacher at the school.
“This is the second year that we went over the 30-student maximum,” she said.
Lane said the big classes were indicative of the fiscal environment faced by Michigan’s schools.
“I taught in a third-world county, and we had classes that had about 16 students,” she said. “I never thought I’d see class sizes this big–not in the United States.”
Whiston said that eight teachers who have not yet been assigned to a school, but have avoided layoffs, will be deployed to schools that present severe overcrowding issues.
Sipperly said she was confident that many of the teachers on the pink slip list will be called back before school begins, but Whiston holds that many of the jobs are lost for the foreseeable future.
“Seven million is a huge amount of money,” he said. “And I’d be surprised if we handle any retirements in significant numbers because of the state incentive that was offered last year. It’s hard to see how all of them could be called back–unless we get a big gift from Lansing.”