Detroit sends layoff notices to all public teachers

CHICAGO Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:52am EDT

A child colors a Chinese mask in Elementary School, April 11, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A child colors a Chinese mask in Elementary School, April 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The emergency manager appointed to put Detroit's troubled public school system on a firmer financial footing said on Thursday he was sending layoff notices to all of the district's 5,466 unionized employees.

In a statement posted on the website of Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb, the district's temporary head, said notices were being sent to every member of the Detroit Federation of Teachers "in anticipation of a workforce reduction to match the district's declining student enrollment."

Bobb said nearly 250 administrators were receiving the notices, too.

The district is unlikely to eliminate all the teachers. Last year, it sent out 2,000 notices and only a fraction of employees were actually laid off. But the notices are required by the union's current contract with the district. Any layoffs under this latest action won't take effect until late July.

In the meantime, Bobb said that he planned to exercise his power as emergency manager to unilaterally modify the district's collective bargaining agreement with the Federation of Teachers starting May 17, 2011.

Under a law known as Public Act 4, passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by the state's new Republican governor in March, emergency managers like Bobb have sweeping powers. They can tear up existing union contracts, and even fire some elected officials, if they believe it will help solve a financial emergency.

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted under Public Act 4," Bobb said in the statement.

He was appointed emergency financial manager for Detroit's schools two years ago by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, to close chronic budget deficits brought on by declining enrollment. Over just the past year, Detroit's population has dropped 25 percent, according to census data.

Bobb has closed schools, laid off workers and taken other steps to cut spending but the district still faces a $327 million deficit in its $994 million budget.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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