Teachers' 'sickout' shuts Detroit public schools again

Reuters News
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Posted: May 03, 2016 10:45 AM

By Suzannah Gonzales

(Reuters) - Nearly all of Detroit's public schools were closed for a second straight day on Tuesday as teachers called in sick in a protest prompted by the disclosure that the cash-strapped school system will run out of money to pay employees at the end of June.

Ninety-four of the city's 97 public schools were closed as a result of the "sickout" on Tuesday, according to Chrystal Wilson, a spokeswoman for Michigan's largest public school system. Wilson said the schools are expected to be open on Wednesday.

Nearly 1,500 teachers called in sick on Tuesday, 90 fewer than Monday, Wilson said.

The teachers' union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that it is seeking a guarantee that teachers will get paid for their work.

"Their failure to give us that guarantee is tantamount to a lock-out," the statement said, referring to school system officials.

The city's public school system, with nearly 46,000 students, has been under state control since 2009 because of a financial emergency.

Detroit Public Schools will run out of money to pay employees after the fiscal year ends on June 30, the school system's emergency manager, former federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes, has said.

The union's statement said it planned a rally and membership meeting on Tuesday.

"We're tired of being sick and tired. It's time for Lansing to act," the teachers' union said on Facebook, referring to the state legislature.

Lawmakers on a committee in the Michigan House of Representatives were taking up a seven-bill package on Tuesday that would provide a mix of income tax revenue and a state loan to aid the school district, which would be split into two entities.

"Teachers, you are going to get paid," said State Representative Al Pscholka, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is considering the bills.

If the committee passes the bills, they will need approval from the full House, the Senate and Governor Rick Snyder.

Michigan legislators have approved $48.7 million in supplemental funding but Rhodes has said that will allow the district to meet payroll only through June.

He urged state lawmakers to approve a $715 million plan that would create a new Detroit Education Commission, with broad authority to control new school openings for the next five years.

Without that extra money, teachers on an annual 26-paycheck cycle will go unpaid and there will be no funds for summer school or year-round special education services, Rhodes said.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Trott)