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Detroit Teachers Protest Contract Proposals

The state-appointed emergency manager of the Detroit public schools, Robert Bobb, has dramatic plans to right-size his beleaguered school district, but he's already facing opposition from his local unions.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers and other district unions are carrying out a protest this morning against Mr. Bobb's proposals for renewing the district's collectively bargained contract.

Among the provisions, the district proposes cutting salaries by 10 percent, increasing the proportion that members must pay for health and dental coverage, and freezing "step" increases, DFT officials contend. The plan would end other financial perks, too, such as a pay-out for teachers who retire with dozens of days of sick leave and compensation for a lost planning period, and it would require teachers seeking to transfer to obtain a principal's approval.

"In essence you seek to eradicate every right and benefit that our members have achieved through four decades of collective bargaining. I know that you don't realistically expect me or my membership to agree to these regressive, oppressive, and punitive proposals," DFT President Keith Johnson wrote in a harshly worded letter to Bobb.

Even more telling, my e-mail box is starting to fill up with messages from angry teachers. One of their chief concerns is the elimination of additional compensation for having a class size that exceeds the district-specified average.

But on the other hand, the district really is in serious financial trouble, as colleague Dakarai Aarons reported in this feature story. It has a deficit of $259 million. Enrollment continues to drop; in 2010 the district will have half the enrollment it had in 2001.

Are the proposed cuts the only alternative to additional layoffs?

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