Flint, MI—Flint’s Board of Education has authorized more than $1 million to be set aside to compensate teachers. The teachers’ union said it’s a positive step forward, but the decision also raises more questions than answers.
For one, the United Teachers of Flint (UTF) officials say their ask for restoring teachers’ wages commensurate to years of service is unresolved. At the moment, the ins and outs of distributing the approved one-time funding to teachers also remains unclear, and the Board has yet to greenlight the Flint Community Schools (FCS) administration to negotiate with UTF about the matter, according to UTF officials.
On Wednesday, May 10, 2023, the Flint Community Schools (FCS) Board voted 5-2 to move $1.5 million of one-time funding into a special account for teachers’ compensation. The dissenting votes were cast by Board Treasurer Dylan Luna and Trustee Terae King Jr.
Karen Christian, the president of the United Teachers of Flint (UTF), said even though the teachers’ union is glad about the funding for teachers, its request to bring back teachers’ wages that reflect their step advancements remains to be addressed.
“We’re happy about the $1.5 million because it is money going towards teachers,” Christian told Flint Beat. “The concern though that we also have is the fact that we’ve had teachers who have been frozen for years and we need to get people to the right salary step for their years of service.”
The district’s teachers have seen a years-long freeze in the annual advancement of teachers’ “steps,” or their increase in pay based on their years of service. The first step freezes were put in place roughly a decade ago to address the district’s budget woes, during which a wage concession occurred as well, according to Bruce Jordan, the Michigan Education Association UniServ director assigned to work with UTF.
“A bonus of sorts could be one-time, but when you really talk about restoring teachers and the steps that they’ve lost over the course of the last 10, 12 years, it’s not a one-time issue,” he said in an interview. “It’s a legacy type of cost that travels with the person year after year.”
Jordan said he believes that the Board’s Wednesday decision comes with good intentions, but the Board still needs to allow the Flint Schools administration, led by Superintendent Kevelin Jones, to come to the table with the union to hash out the details of distributing the funding.
“Regardless of how this all plays out, if the Board doesn’t authorize Kevelin to have a conversation with us, nothing will happen—nothing—because I can’t allow even the district to give all these bonuses out without them coming to us to negotiate how that looks to make it fair, equitable and make sure everybody’s in agreement,” Jordan said. “It has to be that way. It’s just the way it works.”
During the Wednesday meeting, Trustee Melody Relerford made a motion for $1.5 million to be dedicated to teachers.
“I want to make a motion that $1.5 million be taken out of the general funds and set aside for teacher restoration tonight,” Relerford said.
She added that the Board had voted on various renovations of Flint Schools’ buildings on Wednesday, so “why can’t we do teachers tonight also?”
However, Luna and King said increasing compensation for teachers should go alongside building closures. Closing down buildings is long overdue and doing so will help reduce operational costs, they noted. The two board members emphasized their support for teachers, but underscored the importance of being financially responsible.
Luna said he joined to Board to make difficult and sound decisions, including “supporting teachers’ pay but also closing buildings, and they can go hand-in-hand. Just like we said, teachers multitask, this Board can multitask.”
Jones told the Board that they had previously voted for a consulting firm to start working on the district’s five-to-10-year plan. He urged them to hold off on making decisions about building closures until the plan is completed. Jones told Flint Beat ahead of the meeting that the plan will help with the decision-making around closing down buildings.
In terms of Relerford’s motion, Luna then raised the question: “Would this be a one-time stipend for this calendar year or will this be a $1.5 million of ongoing annual expenses?”
“This is not a stipend, right?” Board President Michael Clack asked.
“That ain’t what I said,” Relerford said. “Go by what I said: a $1.5 million to put into an account specifically for teachers’ salary.”
But Luna said there remained a lack of clarity about whether the funds would be ongoing or a one-time spending, and he proposed an amendment to Relerford’s motion to allow the administration to begin discussions with UTF about step advancements.
“Allowing the administration to begin these conversations with UTF so we have the right numbers, we know what they want, we know what we can do and we can move this forward in a responsible way is the best [way] to do it, and I want it to happen as soon as possible,” Luna said.
Jones also encouraged the Board to be prudent.
“We need to make the right decision, and I don’t think it’s clear that when you make a decision to put a pot of money somewhere that that’s not going to continue and continue and continue,” Jones said. “Once you add to salary, you’re gonna have to keep that up every year, otherwise it’s a stipend or it’s something you’re paying one-time. So I don’t know what those numbers look like.”
Further, Jones said the district currently doesn’t have a chief financial officer. He added that there are many considerations to be made before making a final decision for teachers as he advised the Board to “choose wise counsel.”
The Board voted 4-3 to reject Luna’s amendment, with himself, King and Clack voting yes for the amendment.
When it came time to vote on the $1.5 million, Relerford said that “the original motion is to set aside $1.5 million into an unique account specifically for teacher increase.”
“One-time?” asked Secretary Claudia Perkins.
“One-time,” Relerford said.
“One-time,” Clack acknowledged.
“One-time,” Relerford said. “One-time $1.5 million set aside for teachers’ salary in a unique fund.”
So, the Board went on to approve the motion.
They then voted on a separate motion made by Laura MacIntyre, assistant treasurer/secretary, to hold a special meeting with Thrun Law Firm to discuss whether reopening the UTF contract is needed and the legal matters of setting aside $1.5 million for teachers’ compensation.
The motion was approved by the Board unanimously, and Jordan said he hopes that the special meeting will help clarify the next steps.