ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Students in Detroit start classes next week. There's some question, though, whether there will be teachers there to greet them. The Detroit teachers are on strike. They were scheduled to report for work on Monday and today is the third day of negotiations. With less than a week before school is set to begin for the city's 119,000 teachers, the two sides remain far apart.
Jerome Vaughn of member station WDET has been following those developments and joins us now. And Jerome, first, why are the teachers striking? What are their grievances?
JEROME VAUGHN reporting:
Well, really the main issue comes down to money. The teachers want an increase about five percent in wages in the next couple of years. The district, however, wants money coming back from them. They want a 5.5 percent pay cut for teachers, and that's really the main sticking point, although there are a number of other issues involved. Teachers think basically they're not appreciated enough.
SIEGEL: Lack of supplies is a complaint that we've heard attributed to Detroit teachers about the conditions that they work in.
VAUGHN: That's another main issue. Teachers have been buying their own supplies. The district has had financial difficulties for a number of years, and so you know, teachers are used to buying things like pencils and pens and crayons and basic things like that.
But in Detroit the situation has become so bad at times the teachers are buying toilet paper for their students because there's not enough toilet paper in the schools. The teachers say, you know, for us to deal with conditions like this and be able to teach well, you need to be able to pay us at least what we deserve.
SIEGEL: Well, you're describing two sides that are very far apart if one side wants more money and the other sides wants a give back. Is there any report at all of any progress toward reconciliation here?
VAUGHN: Well, they've really been talking through much of the summer. When the vote came Sunday to say we're not going to work on Monday. On Monday a judge said all right, you need to talk around the clock. You need to try to get this resolved before kids are scheduled to go back to school on Tuesday.
And so they're hoping to use that cushion time to really get things done. They've been talking just about around the clock with some pretty long breaks for dinner and lunch and a little bit of sleep. But really there's been no word of how well those talks are going.
SIEGEL: Now in an era of school choice and charter schools, the threat of a school closure is not the same as what it used to be. If I understand it, part of the danger perceived here for the Detroit schools is if they don't open for a full year, they could just lose students to other schools.
VAUGHN: That's right. It has been a big problem ongoing. The district has been losing roughly 10,000 students a year to other school districts and charter schools and it has been a real problem. The reason it's a problem, each student that leaves the district takes with it about $7,400 in state money. So a kid not going to Detroit schools means that school, that district, doesn't get that $7,400.
Where a lot of them are going are these charter schools, other sorts of schools put together by other entities, and it has really had a major impact on the number of students in Detroit schools. And the district is worried that if there's a strike, not even necessarily a long strike, but you know, a few weeks, that that could be enough to take even more students out of the Detroit system and put them somewhere else.
SIEGEL: The point here is, though, students in Detroit can go to surrounding jurisdictions, to other counties to go to school if they so choose.
VAUGHN: Right. There are a number of charter schools in the city of Detroit as well as in the suburbs. There are neighboring districts that have programs to try to lure students and that tax money away from Detroit, and it has really taken a bite out of the city school system lately.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Jerome.
VAUGHN: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: Reporter Jerome Vaughn from member station WDET in Detroit.
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