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Teachers Await Selections Of Charter Operators

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DETROIT (AP) - Thousands of laid-off Michigan public school teachers don’t know if they will have jobs waiting for them when classes resume this fall in their state-run districts.

Detroit is expected to slice 800 teachers from its ranks by recalling only 3,300 of 4,100 teachers who received layoff notices earlier this year. Meanwhile, their counterparts in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park must wait until companies are selected to run them as charter systems.

Who and how many get hired is up to the charter operators.

“Right now, they’re just laid off,” Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt said of teachers in the cash-strapped districts. “This is creating huge uncertainties for these educators.”

State-appointed emergency managers have shopped Muskegon Heights schools in West Michigan and the Highland Park district near Detroit to interested charter operators as part of plans to pull the educational systems from near-fiscal ruin.

Muskegon Heights has a projected $12 million accumulated deficit. Highland Park Schools’ budget deficit soared from $6.6 million to more than $11 million. The state has advanced Highland Park Schools several state aid payments to meet teacher payroll.

Public Act 4 – a year-old state law that gives emergency managers increased control over public school districts and municipalities determined to be in financial emergencies – allows those managers nearly unlimited say-so in how they choose to turn things around.

“Muskegon Heights and Highland Park are the templates as to what might happen in the future” under Public Act 4, said John Holloway, Highland Park School Board president. “They are going to be tweaking all along.”

In Detroit, emergency manager Roy Roberts has imposed a new contract on teachers. Full details of the contract have not been released, but Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson said it continues a 10-percent wage cut, increases the amount workers will pay for dental coverage, and hikes prescription co-pay costs.

Muskegon Heights Schools emergency manager Don Weatherspoon and Joyce Parker, Highland Park Schools manager, have chosen the charter system route.

“When Public Act 4 passed, I don’t think anyone anticipated chartering their whole school district,” said Gretchen Dziadosz, Michigan Education Association interim state executive director.

About 85 Muskegon Heights teachers are laid off. It was not immediately known how many teachers in Highland Park lost their jobs.

Two charter companies are in the running in Muskegon Heights, Pratt said.

Three charter operators have been interviewed in Highland Park, Holloway said.

“The selection process is up to the emergency manager and the state,” he said. “Whoever becomes the charter contractor (is expected to) interview staff to see if they are people they can use. It’s created a hardship for some of them. Some of them are still in the formative years of their work. There are a few who are eligible to retire. It’s kind of scary being forced to retire rather than retiring at your own pace.”

It’s also likely contracts offered by charters will give less in wages and benefits than bargained for in previous deals with the two districts.

“The charters routinely pay less and have higher turnover than traditional neighborhood schools,” Pratt said.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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