Troy School District teachers and their supporters have begun demonstrating before school hours for a fair contract at each of the different Troy school buildings.

Troy School District teachers and their supporters have begun demonstrating before school hours for a fair contract at each of the different Troy school buildings.

Photo provided by Alex Benitez

Contract negotiations continue for Troy teachers

By: Sarah Wright | Troy Times | Published May 2, 2024


TROY — Continued contract negotiations between the Troy School District and their teachers has left some questioning the district’s support of its educators and others pointing to what they called systemic underfunding from the state.

Teachers within the district have been working without a contract since Feb. 1. Though members of the Troy Education Association have been bargaining with the district since November, the teachers said district administrators have been slow to schedule negotiations and have rejected several of the proposals.

“We want the contracts to reflect the quality of the district,” Alex Benitez, a TEA representative and a high school teacher at International Academy East, said. “Troy needs to do better.”

The TEA said the salary schedule under the prior collective bargaining agreement is not competitive with neighboring districts, which has led some Troy teachers to leave and pursue positions elsewhere. They are working for a new compensation schedule that recruits high-quality new teachers and retains current ones.

“This has been stressful for teachers working without a contract,” Benitez said. “We’ve heard from a lot of teachers looking elsewhere, and this provides a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. We’re concerned about retention issues.”

The TEA noted that recently, Troy passed a historic $551 million bond and has around $32 million in fund equity, which they said is second highest in Oakland County. They also noted that Novi’s contract starts at $12,900 more than Troy’s starting salary.

However, Board of Education President Karl Schmidt said that the state Legislature’s 20-years and ongoing underfunding of public education has continued to hinder Troy’s ability to provide meaningful salary increases to professional staff. 

“Assuming Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer’s suggested increases in per-pupil funding take effect with the 2024-25 state budget, we will be operating the district next year at 60% of the funding we received in 2004, when adjusted for inflation,” Schmidt said.  “Since over 90% of our funding goes to salaries and benefits, our ability to provide good wages to our people is directly tied to the adequacy of our state funding. While the board and administration continue to actively lobby the state Legislature to adjust the governor’s funding recommendation and fix this problem over the long haul, we need to make sure that any contract we approve this year is sustainable for the district over the course of the contract based on the funding we receive right now.”

With this in mind, Schmidt said the board is committed to negotiating a contract that respects the teachers as valued professionals, assists in recruiting the best talent available, and allows the district to retain their staff over time.  

“We’re in a tough position, which is why this is taking so long — but we continue to make steady progress in negotiations and are confident the process will ultimately result in the best possible contract for our people given the district’s ongoing financial constraints,” Schmidt said.

As negotiations continue, Troy teachers have been implementing a few different strategies to further promote their goals. This includes teachers wearing black on Tuesdays and blue on Thursdays, and attending and speaking at monthly school board meetings to advocate for competitive and equitable wages. Some teachers have even begun avoiding staying past the end of the school day. 

District officials said they hope to settle this contract soon, and they further discussed details at a meeting April 29.

“The process is taking longer, but the tone is positive,” Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Kendra Montante said. “We would love to have the contract settled as quickly as possible.”

Starting April 30, Troy teachers began demonstrating in person before school hours at each of the Troy school buildings.

“We work hard to make Troy School District an amazing place for kids to learn, grow, and reach their full potential,” Sara Ritter, a teacher at Boulan Park Middle School and a Troy resident, said in a press release. “We deserve a contract that reflects our passion and the hard work that we put in with students every day.”

The TEA said students and parents have been generally supportive of the teachers’ efforts.

“The kids are awesome and tell us how much they support us,” Benitez said. “We’ve received incredible support from the community, and we hope it’s resolved soon.”

The TEA invited parents and community members to support teachers by calling administrators and board members, following the TEA at @SupportTroyTeachers on Instagram and spreading the message on social media, and attending monthly school board meetings if they are able to.

“I feel lucky to work with such incredible teachers and students in my building and across the district,” Benitez said in a TEA press release. “Our goal is to secure a fair and equitable contract that shows respect for the world class education that Troy teachers help create.” 

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