Dearborn Federation of Teachers letter

The Dearborn Federation of Teachers (DFT) Local 681 is the union that represents the teaching staff in the Dearborn Public Schools (DPS). It is important to understand that to be a member of the DFT, and a teacher employed by DPS, a person must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and pass a state certification process.

            In order to remain a certified teacher, a person must complete a minimum of 18 graduate level hours within the first six years of their initial certification. Then, in each five-year interval, a teacher must complete six graduate credit hours or 18 continuing education credits or a combination of the two in order to maintain a valid teaching certificate.

            Because of these requirements, the majority of DPS teachers obtain one or more master’s degrees and a doctorate, all at their own expense. This costly and time consuming endeavor is part of the rationale behind the teaching profession’s unique salary step schedule.

            As a union of professionals, the DFT is committed to working with administration to face the challenges imposed by the current educational funding crisis. The DFT acknowledges that these funding cuts are real, and require innovative, and sometimes difficult changes to be made in order to provide the best possible education for our students while remaining fiscally responsible.

            The superintendent and representatives of the School Board have used numerous media outlets (town hall meetings, PTSA meetings, School Board meetings, newspapers) to present the citizens of Dearborn with their proposed solutions to the problem. Disturbingly, these pieces are represented as factual and purport to accurately represent the current state of negotiations between the DPS and the DFT.

            However, successful negotiations are built on trust and mutual respect. With that in mind, the negotiating teams from both sides had agreed to refrain from “negotiating in the press,” keeping the details of ongoing negotiations confidential until an agreement could be reached.

         The DFT has dutifully upheld this commitment. Unfortunately, some members of the administrative cabinet and School Board have chosen to completely ignore the standards of good faith bargaining. It is unconscionable that they choose to show such distain and disrespect for their employees.

         The DFT negotiating team has not refused to make concessions, as some continuously claim. The team has simply refused to accept the one and only proposal presented by the administrative negotiating team. The one and only proposal that the administration has reiterated continuously in the media. We are supposed to be negotiating, which requires give and take.

            Difficult times require innovative ideas to overcome the obstacles put in front of us. Since February 2009, the DFT continues to suggest innovative cost savings ideas that could be used to balance the current budget and provide for a healthy, effective, and fiscally responsible school district going forward. These ideas have been presented both publicly and at the negotiating table. If some of these ideas had been taken seriously when first presented instead of when the bottom dropped out in October, the financial condition of the district would have been that much more solvent.

            The DPS recently spent significant money on efficiency studies by the Michigan Leadership Institute and Plante Moran. These reports suggested many reforms and cost savings ideas that could be implemented by the district to save money. It is interesting to note that neither study suggests limiting employee compensation, laying off staff or program elimination, yet these are the avenues the DPS administration continues to choose.

            It is the position of the DFT that this approach is the same tired approach that has led to the current crisis, does little or nothing to truly address the source of the “structural deficit” and puts the burden of cost reduction solely on the district employees with little or no impact on reforming the financial stability of the district, and will only negatively effect what members of the DFT treasure most: our students.  

            Without new ideas and new solutions, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. The DFT is willing to actively participate in efforts to solve this crisis. We ask only that the DPS respect the confidentiality of negotiations. Please, do it with us, not to us.

Chris Sipperley
Dearborn Federation of Teachers Local 681