Faced with severe staffing shortages, the Detroit school district is launching a series of financial incentives to lure teachers, social workers, and other professionals to hard-to-staff positions.

According to an agreement the district signed with the Detroit Federation of Teachers — which overall will cost the district $23 million — educators who agree to work in 20 of the district’s hardest-to-staff schools will receive one-time, $3,000 bonuses. The bonuses will go to teachers already teaching in the schools, as well as teachers recruited to the schools.

“These schools consistently are hard to staff,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said during a school board meeting Tuesday. “These schools have had a number of vacancies over the years.” 

The district will also catapult all social workers and psychiatrists, as well as occupational, speech and language, and physical therapists  — including those fresh out of graduate school — closer to the top of the salary schedule. The district says this change could help it meet legal requirements for evaluating students with special needs. For someone at the low end of the salary schedule with a master’s degree, their pay could jump from about $40,000 to more than $58,000.

The Detroit school board unanimously approved the agreement Tuesday night. When the deal was announced last week, salary increases for all teachers overshadowed the pay incentives. But the incentives could turn out to be a significant tool for the district, given how important teacher recruitment and retention are to overall turnaround efforts. Research has generally found that staffing bonuses can reduce teacher turnover. (A Denver initiative that gave annual bonuses to teachers at hard-to-staff schools specifically resulted in reduced turnover in some schools but not others.)

The district for years has struggled with shortages, and Vitti called for increased pay for teachers in hard-to-staff schools when he delivered a state of the schools speech in April.

Teachers who receive the $3,000 bonus for teaching in hard-to-staff schools must be continuously employed at the school during the entire academic year to qualify for payment.

These are the 20 hard-to-staff schools:

  • Brenda Scott Elementary-Middle School
  • Central High School
  • Cody High School
  • Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School
  • Dixon Elementary School
  • Emerson Elementary School
  • Fisher Magnet Upper Academy
  • Frederick Douglass Academy
  • Garvey Academy
  • Henderson Academy
  • J.R. King Elementary School
  • Marion Law Elementary School
  • Marquette Elementary School
  • Noble Elementary-Middle School
  • Osborn High School
  • Pershing High School
  • Pulaski Elementary School
  • Ronald Brown Academy
  • Sampson Elementary School
  • Thirkell Elementary School

Here are some other details:

  • Step boost: All psychologists and social workers, as well as speech and language, occupational, and physical therapists who currently are on steps 1-10 of the salary schedule will automatically be moved to step 11. Those on steps 11-14 will move up to step 15. The big move in steps is designed to aid in recruitment and address the needs of more than 1,800 children waiting for evaluations or re-evaluations for special education services. The step schedule determines salaries based on years of experience and education.
  • Merit pay: Teachers in grades and subjects assessed by the M-STEP exam could earn performance bonuses of $500 each, though the criteria for earning the one-time bonuses must still be determined. Meanwhile, all union employees in schools that “demonstrate exemplary, sustained, or significantly improved school-wide student performance” will be eligible for one-time $500 performance bonuses.

Vitti, during his April state of the schools speech, also called for merit pay for school employees. State law requires districts to have merit pay in place, though the law doesn’t kick in for the Detroit district until later this year.

“We have to be OK with paying teachers, or certain principals, more if student achievement moves at a faster rate,” Vitti said April 10.