Detroit battles over contract

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A few days after the release of Detroit's astonishingly bad, shame-making NAEP scores, Detroit teachers have approved a new contract. Although it passed with a solid majority of support (63 percent), the outcome was by no means certain. A contingent of teachers threatened to bring down the contract vote, objecting to a number of concessions asked for by the dead-broke school district.

Teacher objections were beaten back once the districts emergency financial manager Robert Bobb (do his friends call him Bob?) agreed that he wouldn't require teachers to take a 10 percent salary cut to alleviate the $219 million budget shortfall or eliminate seniority based assignments entirely. Instead, the district's 5,600 teachers are "loaning" the district $10,000 each out of their next two years of salary, to be paid back "upon retirement." The final contract also keeps seniority well intact at all but a select few low performing schools.

Ending seniority in some low performing schools is one of several provisions in the new contract that are remarkably identical to those recently adopted in New Haven, another AFT affiliate; others include school based performance bonuses, peer review and the use of student performance in teacher evaluations. They're largely incremental, but represent substantial movement for both Detroit's historically unreasonable teachers (they actually booed Randi Weingarten at a May appearance for suggesting performance pay wasn't all bad) and woefully dysfunctional school district, referred to by its local newspaper editorial team as "decades behind the rest of the nation."