Education Beat: Details of Flint schools-teacher union settlement revealed

By Harold C. Ford

Details of a sweeping settlement of grievances and other issues that divided Flint Community Schools (FCS) and the United Teachers of Flint (UTF) in recent months are now public.

The specifics were revealed in April 11, 2024 press statements and posts to the district’s website, in which the two sides pledged “to amicably resolve grievances and other litigation” as well as “rectify, restore, and make whole teachers in the Flint Community Schools for all past concessions made.”  

At the heart of the settlement agreement is restoration of teacher pay steps – pay hikes based on length of employment – which had been frozen for up to a decade for some UTF members due to the bleak financial profile of the school district. 

The new settlement also returns FCS to a “traditional calendar” in the 2025-2026 school year, following the district’s use of a “balanced calendar” since the 2019-2020 school year. 

Additionally, the UTF agreed to waive unfair labor practice charges and multiple grievances,while the school district will abandon a potential lawsuit over the matter of a UTF sickout that closed schools on March 13

Aside from those high level matters, the agreement notes that three additional paid teacher workdays will be added to the district calendar for recruitment and retention of students and teachers. The workdays are also to include a campaign to attract former FCS teachers back to the district and transition of “guest teachers” fully into the salary schedule upon achieving certification. 

The settlement also calls for teacher support for personal tutoring and literacy events, and that elementary teachers be compensated if they do not receive a planning period.

The Flint Board of Education (FBOE) approved the agreement on April 3 by unanimous vote. Within hours, UTF members ratified the settlement with a reported 96 percent favorable vote.

Pay steps

The first numbered item in the FCS-UTF agreement addresses pay step increases, the most contentious issue that had divided the district’s leadership and teachers:

Retroactive to the first pay of the 2023/2024 school year, teachers that have been step frozen shall move to the step commensurate with their years of service … by May 3, 2024 … Eligibility includes all active teachers at the time of ratification.

“The majority of teachers will be restored to the [pay] steps where they’re supposed to be,” FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones said. “They haven’t received monies commensurate with their years of service in Flint Community Schools and now we’ve done that with the settlement agreement.”

“There are some people who have been frozen on step two for ten years,” noted Karen Christian, UTF president, adding that FCS has lost many younger teachers to other school districts where pay is relatively higher. 

“We don’t want to lose them to districts that are offering more,” she said.

Jones pointed out that the agreement now moves FCS teachers into the top 1/3 of the estimated 500 to 600 school districts in Michigan. He said that competitive edge “will help us to grow … as it pertains to bringing in new staff.”

Jones explained that FCS funding for pay steps – totaling about $1.3 million – will come from the $1.5 million the FBOE voted to set aside in a special account for teacher compensation back in May 2023.


Return to a traditional calendar

The newly approved agreement also states that FCS will convert back to a traditional school year calendar in 2025-2026 after six years on a balanced calendar. A balanced calendar features an earlier start to the school year, a later finish, and longer and more frequent breaks during the academic year. 

Balanced calendar proponents cite many advantages – most often the diminishment of learning loss – particularly for low-income youth. The first school district in Michigan to adopt the balanced calendar was Beecher in the 2013-2014 school year. 

Beecher had prepared for a balanced calendar school year when it passed a $2.2 million bond proposal that, in part, upgraded climate control systems in its buildings to prepare for warmer temperatures in June and August.  

Conversely, FCS has experienced multiple climate control issues over the years, due in part to outdated HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems in a lineup of buildings among the oldest in the nation. On several occasions, school was called off due to unbearable temperatures in the classrooms.


Labor-management issues

Per the terms of the agreement, three grievances filed by the UTF were deemed settled, and the union agreed not to file “any grievances regarding these matters during the term of this Agreement,” which expires in July 2025. 

Additionally, three other grievances by the union were either withdrawn or put “in abeyance until May 17, 2024.”  

Further, UTF agreed to withdraw an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge it filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, and both parties promised “no further legal action will be brought forward regarding actions taken on March 13, 2024” — the date UTF staged a sick-out that caused a district-wide cancellation of classes and union leaders reported a “unanimous” vote to strike.


Teacher and student retention and recruitment

The agreement calls upon both sides “to collaborate and focus on the vital needs of increasing student enrollment and retention; as well as teacher recruitment and retention for academic success.”  

To achieve that, the parties agreed to add three paid workdays “to support and assist with an enrollment extravaganza day and professional development.” 

Further, the agreement also reaches out to former FCS teachers and current “guest teachers,” or FCS classroom teachers with four-year degrees but absent teaching certification:

If a teacher has FCS employment service, and the teacher left FCS, their placement on the salary schedule shall be commensurate of their overall verifiable teaching experience Any ‘guest teacher’ … obtaining their teaching certification, shall move on the salary schedule commensurate with their original date of hire into the ‘guest teacher program.’

In an effort to attract teachers, new hires will now be given credit for prior teaching experience and will be placed accordingly on the pay step scale. 

Additionally, both sides agreed to seek solutions for “implementing full elementary planning time” and “kindergarten class size overages.” Elementary teachers that are not provided panning periods will be compensated at $30 per hour up to 225 minutes each week.


“We on a good roll now.”

At the April 10 joint press conference, both Jones and Christian called the settlement “a very collaborative effort.”

“Our teachers will be restored, which is the biggest thing,” Christian said. “At this point, no one will be frozen [in terms of pay steps] anymore.”  

“We on a good roll now,” said Joyce Ellis-McNeal, FBOE President, though a colleague added that she’d hoped for more on behalf of the teachers.

“It is not enough,” said Laura MacIntyre, FBOE assistant secretary/treasurer. “They definitely deserve more … but I’m glad this is a step in the right direction.”

For his part, FBOE Treasurer Dylan Luna called upon others to do more for Flint schools: “I want to see our partners in government, philanthropy, and private industry join us at the table to help us finish the work we started so we can make a transformational change for our students, their families, and their futures.”

The new FCS-UTF agreement is set to expire on July 31, 2025, at which point it “will become part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and be subject to bargaining as it pertains to a successor Agreement” per the settlement’s language.

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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