DETROIT (WWJ) – The Detroit teachers union is preparing to enter into a legal battle with the Detroit Public Schools district to prevent a 10 percent wage cut after voters failed to pass a county-wide tax millage.
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, told WWJ’s Charlie Langton he will fight another wage reduction “by any means necessary.”
“I will exhaust every dollar available to me as president of DFT to make the district pay for their ineptitude and their attempts to impose their ineptitude or the cost of their ineptitude upon the DFT and other employees,” he said. “The more we give, the more they want. They more they want, the more they take. We simply are not going to let them take any more.”
Johnson, who is meeting with attorneys on Tuesday, said he could not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit against the district. He said teachers have already taken enough pay cuts.
“The district has always had to save money and unfortunately, they feel that the way to do it is to always penalize the employees,” he said. “But who in their right mind submits a budget that has contingency money in it, saying that this budget is in part predicated upon a millage that we hope passes?”
Johnson said the district’s yearly budget was drawn up on the assumption that voters would pass the county-wide 2 mill increase that appeared on the ballot for the Aug. 5th primary election.
“The irresponsible part here is that the district submitted as part of their budget, money that would have been generated by the passage of that millage. Now that that millage has failed, their revised deficit elimination plan further penalizes the employees of the district,” he said. “It is completely irresponsible to base your budget upon money that you did not know you would have.”
If the district does reduce wages, Johnson said it would essentially mean that teaches have taken a 20 percent pay cut since 2011.
“On top of that, the restructured health care means that the disposable income of our employees will have been reduced by somewhere around 25 percent. People still have to live, they still have to provide for their families and we should not have to continue to pay for the district’s ineptitude,” he said. “We’re talking about people, some of whom are only making about $40,000, and now you’re talking about cutting their pay by another 10 percent. That is completely unacceptable.”
A big problem with reducing teachers wages, Johnson said, is that the district has so far been unable to show that the cuts actually pay off.
“Every cut that we have taken over the last five years was designed to put the district on a path to fiscal solvency. Each time that we negotiated those cuts or those cuts were imposed upon us, the district has said ‘This will help, this will address the issues and put us on a path to fiscal solvency.’ And then each time they come back and said ‘Well, that didn’t do it, we’ve got to do something else,'” he said.
Johnson said the underlying issue is that the district simply owes the state too much money.
“With the decreasing revenue in Detroit and the decreasing student population, the debt service is killing us. The district pays out $52 million in debt service. Until the governor or the state treasurer allows some debt forgiveness or restructures that deficit, there’s no way for us to climb out of this financial hole,” he said.
The district is facing a $121.5 million projected deficit at the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year.