DETROIT (AP) — Detroit schools reopened Wednesday after teachers who had called out sick for two days received assurances from the financially struggling district that they would continue to be paid.
But while the teachers are returning to work, their union is sparring with lawmakers over a $500 million plan to restructure the district.
House lawmakers met late Wednesday night to work on the plan, which is supposed to deal with the district's debt and assuage teachers' fears that they won't be paid if the district runs out of money. Majority Republicans were trying to muster enough votes to pass it without Democrats' support. House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said Democrats' opposition to the measure is "unanimous."
The teachers union blasted the legislation that would also forbid existing labor agreements from transferring to the new district and restrict collective bargaining over work schedules and school calendars.
Terrence Martin, executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers are "truly outraged" by the proposal. He said the measures heading to the full House "feel like and look like anti-teacher bills" and differ radically from legislation approved in March by the Senate that he described as "workable."
"(It's) very discouraging to our membership," Martin said. "We'll continue to fight."
The union said it would encourage members to go back to school Wednesday based on discussions with the district's state-appointed transitional manager, Steven Rhodes. He said in a statement that teachers "are legally entitled to be paid in full" for their work.
The sick-out idled 45,000 children and presented yet another crisis with racial overtones for a governor and Legislature already engrossed in the water emergency in Flint, a majority-black city like Detroit, where many residents have complained about being treated like second-class citizens.
"Teachers, you're going to get paid," Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka said before the panel approved the plan.
The proposal that passed mostly along party lines would launch a new district in July. Students would attend school in that district, while the old one would remain intact for tax-collection purposes to retire the district's enormous debt by 2023.
The seven-bill plan aims to ensure the newly created district could spend more on academics if freed of debt payments equaling $1,100 per student.
The full GOP-led House could vote on the idea later this week. But big differences would still need to be resolved with the Republican-led Senate, which passed a $700-plus million plan. It was unclear how quickly that could occur before the Legislature adjourns for the summer in mid-June.
On Tuesday, the district closed 94 of its 97 schools, the same number that canceled classes on Monday, when more than 1,500 teachers did not show up for work. On Wednesday morning, the district said all schools were open except for one that was closed due to a power outage.
"We want to be in school teaching children," said Randi Weingarten, national president of the American Federation of Teachers. "But you cannot in good conscience ask anybody to work without a guarantee they're going to be paid."
The district — considered the worst academically of its size in the country — has been under continuous state oversight since 2009. It has been led by a series of financial managers who have confronted debt and enrollment that has declined to a third of what it was a decade ago.
Rhodes, the current manager and a former federal judge who oversaw the city's bankruptcy, warned over the weekend that nearly $50 million in emergency spending that the state approved in March will run out by June 30.
Teachers opting to have their pay spread over 12 months instead of the course of the school year would not receive paychecks in July and August without more help from the state.
Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub and Ed White in Detroit, and Michael Gerstein in Lansing contributed to this report. Eggert reported from Lansing.