In matching red T-shirts and carrying signs, a large group of Grosse Pointe Public School System teachers gathered outside Brownell Middle School June 12 to show their desire to get a new contract soon.

In matching red T-shirts and carrying signs, a large group of Grosse Pointe Public School System teachers gathered outside Brownell Middle School June 12 to show their desire to get a new contract soon.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Local teachers demonstrate for new contract before school board meeting

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 17, 2024

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Well over 100 teachers — many carrying signs — stood outside Brownell Middle School in Grosse Pointe Farms before the June 12 Grosse Pointe Board of Education meeting in a show of unity as they seek contracts for the next school year.

Jackie Shelson, co-president of the Grosse Pointe Education Association — the teachers’ union — said this was the last school board meeting before the end of the school year, and the teachers had yet to see the budget for the 2024 to 2025 school year. The school board was slated, at press time, to vote on the budget during its next meeting June 18, after the June 20 edition of the Grosse Pointe Times went to press.

“This is just a show of solidarity,” Shelson said. “It’s the end of the school year, but we have yet to have a contract again. It’s important for Grosse Pointe to retain these amazing people, and you get that with a fair and equitable contract.”

Last year, the board and the union didn’t reach an agreement until Aug. 17 — two days after the old contract had expired, and less than two weeks before teachers were supposed to report to work Aug. 29. As talks dragged on all summer, dozens of teachers and several administrators left for other positions before the contract was settled.

As teachers, in matching red T-shirts, marched into the board meeting, their clapping nearly drowned out Board President Sean Cotton as he recited meeting rules for attendees and speakers.

District residents — some of whom wore red to show support for the teachers — called on the board to ink a new contract as soon as possible, before teachers left for positions elsewhere. In the current climate, there’s a shortage of teachers and administrators, meaning they can usually find jobs elsewhere in the region.

“Please pay our teachers a living wage,” Grosse Pointe Woods resident Sarah Schroeder said.

Grosse Pointe Park resident Maurya Kay, who teaches in a different district, called for support of Grosse Pointe Public School System teachers as well.

“Your job is to nurture by attracting the best teachers and leaders, not drive them away,” Kay told the board.

Kay was among several residents who expressed alarm about the departure of all four of Grosse Pointe North High School’s top administrators at the end of this school year — Principal Kate Murray, Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Michelle Davis, Assistant Principal Geoffrey Young and Assistant Principal Katy Vernier. Only Vernier — who succeeds Walt Fitzpatrick as the principal at Kerby Elementary — is staying with the district.

Because of a decline in students — from 6,424 in the 2023 to 2024 school year to a projected student count of 6,333 in the 2024 to 2025 school year — the proposed budget is looking at reducing teaching staff from the current figure of 479 to 461. GPPSS Superintendent Andrea Tuttle said that reduction “is primarily due to attrition” and really amounts to one layoff and some reductions in full-time equivalent staff. She said the district’s student/teacher ratio is expected to be 14/1 in the coming school year. That’s down from a ratio of 13/1 in the 2023 to 2024 school year, but Tuttle said it’s still below the state average of 17/1. She said the student/teacher ratio includes support staff and counselors, not just teachers.

The proposed budget doesn’t include any program or extracurricular cuts and, district leaders say, retains almost all the staff. It also includes step raises and a 1% salary increase. However, Tuttle said it will require the use of about $1 million in fund balance, which will reduce the fund balance to about 8.8%.

“Our salaries and benefits are competitive and continue to be competitive,” Tuttle said during a report to the board on the budgeting process June 12.

Cotton said the proposed budget reflects the district’s commitment to students and staff.