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    On February 16, 2016, Michigan Representative Daniela Garcia (R- Holland) introduced House Bill 5387, one of three bills in a reform package for Detroit Public Schools (DPS). HB 5387 amends the Public Employment Relations Act (PERA), which prohibits strikes by certain public employees. PERA also establishes the rights and privileges of public employees and guidelines for collective bargaining between public employees and employers. Representative Garcia said that it was their “intent to put kids first in this package of bills to address the situation in Detroit Public Schools. It is critically important to introduce the concept of academic reform, as well as financial reform, so this district can be viable for our students.”

    The bill package that includes HB 5387 is one of many currently being proposed to solve the problems in Detroit Public Schools. It is very similar to the bill package proposed by Senator Geoff Hansen (R- Hart) which includes SB 710 and 711. Both bill packages have drawn criticism from both Detroit lawmakers and Democrats. Many have commented saying that the legislation proposed by both Hansen and Garcia will only hurt the teachers and the district.

     

    HB 5387 is tie-barred to HB 5384, also introduced by Representative Garcia. This bill creates a “new DPS” and “old DPS.” Old DPS, officially called the Qualifying School District, would house the debt from DPS until it is paid. After the debt is paid, the Qualifying School District would dissolve. New DPS, officially called the Community District, would oversee all day-to-day operations of the schools.

     

    Teachers in Detroit Public Schools began participating in “sick outs” in protest to the unhealthy condition of the schools in November of 2015. At one point in January, 24 schools were closed due to the lack of teachers present. DPS schools have been neglected over the years and pose many risks to both students and teachers. Some schools have even been found to contain toxic black mold.

     

    Did the DPS teachers have the right to participate in these sick outs? This is the question that grabbed the attention of the Michigan legislature and set in motion legislation like HB 5387. During the sick outs students were denied their right to attend school and learn, as they should.

     

    There have been varying responses to the sick outs. Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R- Mount Pleasant) believes the absentee teachers should be dismissed. On the other hand, a judge from the Michigan Court of Claims did not agree that the sick outs were in violation of the Public Employment Relations Act and refused a request from DPS to issue a restraining order against the teachers.

     

    HB 5387 amends PERA by adding provisions for the new community district, which ultimately affects DPS teachers and their rights to collective bargaining and protest. Teacher’s right to collective bargaining and strike is an intensely debated issue across the nation. In Michigan and 47 other states, striking is prohibited for teachers. Participating in a strike often comes with a fine, and in Michigan this fine is equal to one full day of pay for each day of participation. Collective bargaining is widely accepted across the United States, but often teachers are subject to strict guidelines when it comes to their collective bargaining rights. HB 5387 restricts these rights even further for teachers in community districts, which would include DPS teachers.

     

    Many groups of workers are afforded the right to strike, should they have a just cause. In most states, however, public employees are not given the same rights. Some states do allow public employees to strike, but exempts teachers from this right. Only 8 states, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin allow teachers to strike. However, this right is mostly limited to special circumstances. Collective bargaining is usually used to settle disputes between public employee and public employer, but what happens when that doesn’t solve the issue? In these cases, should public employees be given the right to strike and have their voices heard?

     

    A primary concern missing from HB 5387 is the teachers’ voice. The bill package details the expansion of the Financial Review Commission’s (FRC) oversight to include the newly created community district. While the bill does add the district’s superintendent and the school board chair as members to the FRC, there is no mention of the inclusion of teachers. The bill broadly infringes on DPS teachers’ rights under PERA. HB 5387 was supposed to solve the issues in DPS, but still does not address teachers’ concerns or include them in the process. In a district dealing with widespread sick outs and discontented teachers, this bill does not address the primary problem.

     

    Reforming Detroit Public Schools is in the early stages. The Michigan legislature can be expected to introduce several more bills in response to the problems in DPS. Governor Snyder has already proposed allocating additional funds to help DPS in his 2016-17 budget proposal. HB 5387 and its companion bills are still being discussed in the Appropriations Committee. The future of DPS is awaiting proper legislation to address its problems.

     

    Sources:
    Garcia, D. (2016, February 17). Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland; audio on Detroit Public Schools Reform Legislation. In Michigan House Republicans. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://gophouse.org/rep-daniela-garcia-r-holland-audio-on-detroit-public-schools-reform-legislation/
    Garcia, D. (2016, February 18). HB 5387. In Michigan Legislature. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(hmcd2ok2w42m3nrwnrh5yemz))/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=2016-HB-5387&query=on
    Lewis, S. D. (2016, January 25). Judge rejects DPS bid for restraining order on sickouts. In The Detroit News. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2016/01/25/judge-rejects-dps-bid-restraining-order-sickouts/79306082/
    Teachers Unions/Collective Bargaining: State and Local Laws. (n.d.). In FindLaw. Retrieved February 24, 2016, from http://education.findlaw.com/teachers-rights/teacher-s-unions-collective-bargaining-state-and-local-laws.htm
    Wicksall, B. (2016, February 22). Legislative Analysis: HB 5385-7. In Michigan Legislature. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billanalysis/House/pdf/2015-HLA-5384-272453CF.pdf

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