Good news for Detroit district teachers stuck at a low pay level: The finance committee of the school board Friday recommended an agreement with the city’s largest teachers union to raise the pay of veteran teachers — and to bring in experienced teachers at higher salaries.
“This is a major step for the district to fully recognize experience,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. “A lot of the adult issues have been put aside to focus on children.”
The changes will be for members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the city’s largest teachers union.
For years, Detroit teachers have bargained for contracts that severely restricted the pay of experienced teachers who wanted to come into the district. As a result, new teachers can currently only get credit for two years of experience, regardless of how many years they’ve taught in other cities or in charter schools.
Vitti has called that restriction a major reason why it’s difficult to attract new teachers and keep existing ones. And with fewer teachers, classroom sizes start to balloon.
Detroit currently has 190 teacher vacancies, down from 275 at this point last year.
The committee also recommended giving a one-time bonus to teachers at the top of the salary scale, to recognize outside experience for current and future teachers, and to repay the Termination Incentive Plan as soon as this September.
The incentive plan took $250 from teachers’ biweekly paycheck and held it to pay them when they left the district when emergency managers were in control, but the money was never given back to teachers, said Ivy Bailey, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
Teachers who have paid into the incentive plan from the beginning will receive $9,000. The teachers union made a contract with the district last year that stipulated the money be paid by 2020, but the new agreement would move the payment to this September.
Finally, a bonus — $1,373.60 — for more than 2,000 teachers at the top of the pay scale would be paid in December.
Potentially, some teachers receiving bonuses and who are eligible for the incentive plan payment would receive in excess of $10,000,
“The bonus for teachers on the top is focused on ensuring that we retain our most veteran teachers as we work on an agreement in the third year to increase, once again, teachers at the top step so they can be made whole after emergency manager reductions,” Vitti said. “We can do that once our enrollment settles or increases.”
In all, the district proposes to spend a combined $5.7 million to pay current and future teachers for how long they’ve worked, $3.2 million on bonuses for veteran teachers, and $22 million on the incentive plan.
“This is something none of us were expecting,” Bailey said. “This is good for everyone. We already ratified a contract, so this is just extra.”
It’s a tentative agreement between the district and the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Bailey said.
If an agreement is reached and the school board approves it, the changes could give the district a new tool in trying to reduce the teacher shortage. It’s a major change for district teachers who saw their pay slashed by 10 percent in 2011. The new contract ratified by the union members last summer promised to increase teacher pay by 7 percent over three years but many teachers grumbled that it wasn’t enough to bring them back to where they were in 2011.
The two groups are still in talks to “iron out the details,” Bailey said. Specifically, the union wants to make sure that district employees like counselors, therapists and college support staff also receive higher salaries commensurate with experience.