By Harold C. Ford
What had been a steady stream of educators departing Flint Community Schools (FCS) in the first seven months of 2019, became a torrent in August and September. According to FCS records posted at its website, the district lost 60 educators with 833 years of experience from January to September.
FCS “Personnel Recommendations” revealed the following number of educator resignations and retirements and collective years of experience:
FCS superintendent points finger at pay scale:
Derrick Lopez, FCS Superintendent, read from a long statement at the Sept. 18 board meeting which, in part, assessed the reason for the extraordinary number of departures to be low pay:
“For too long the teacher shortage across the state of Michigan was exacerbated in Flint because we did not have a collective bargaining agreement in place and we had the lowest starting rate in Genesee County…In partnership with the United Teachers of Flint and the Michigan Education Association we have completely rewritten the collective bargaining agreement to create real incentives for teachers to work in the Flint Community Schools.”
Casey Lester, the Flint board’s secretary/treasurer, asked Lopez about exit interviews with departed employees. Lopez indicated that Cassandra Washington, executive director of human resources, had already begun to collect data from those who’d left the district.
“I would love to look at some of that,” Lester said. “Statistically…pay is typically not one of the top three reasons people leave a job…I’d be very curious to see what our top three reasons for people leaving the district are versus what we believe they are.”
In follow-up through the district’s public relation firm, Lopez said Southwestern Academy and Flint Junior High were the most challenging to staff following the departures. Also, “In light of the shortage of teaching staff across the state of Michigan, special education continues to be a challenge,” the statement from Lopez read.
New teacher contract ends five-year pay freeze:
In August, the district’s 250 teachers ratified, by a 96 percent majority, a new contract that raised pay. The new pact ended a five-year pay freeze for Flint teachers.
“We eliminated the two lowest pay steps of the former contract, raised the starting salary for entry level employees by roughly $3,000 per year,” said Lopez in his prepared statement, “and included an on-average two percent raise for every teacher in the district.”
The agreement also extends longevity benefits to begin at five years for those who remain in FCS service as follows: $500/year starting at the end of the fifth year; $750/year starting at the end of the 10th year; $1,000/year starting at the end of the 15th year; $1,250/year starting at the end of the 20th year.
“Most of our teachers are veteran teachers and land towards the top end of the scale,” Lopez stated in a followup message to EVM.
How class sizes are affected
According to information provided by the district, with the new collective bargaining agreement, this year class size is reduced from a maximum of 36 students per classroom to the following:
Nonetheless, many classroom vacancies led to a chaotic start for Flint schools. “We’ve had a rough start for various factors,” Lopez told MLive-Flint. “There are a lot of teacher vacancies which has caused a lot of discord around the students.”
“Guest teachers” help fill vacant classrooms:
Thirty-three new teachers were hired at the August and September meetings of the board of education. Ten “guest teachers” were hired at the September meeting at the pay rate of $125/day.
Guest teachers, according to Lopez, are provided for in the newly ratified contract. They are college students with degrees that are still attending classes to attain their teacher certification.
In a follow up message to EVM, Lopez explained that because of the guest teacher program, the district did not have to combine classes.
The compensation package for guest teachers includes tuition reimbursement and the opportunity to join the teaching staff full-time after 60 consecutive days of service. According to Lopez, guest teachers are from local colleges including Michigan State University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Saginaw Valley State University, and University of Michigan-Flint.
“We are working to develop a (teacher) pipeline that is stable over time,” said Lopez. Flint employs a total of 15 guest teachers in their schools, he said.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.