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Taking chances

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For the roughly 500 students at the Last Chance Academy, the ongoing squabble between Detroit Public Schools and the Detroit Federation of Teachers about their program isn't directly affecting classroom work. Yet.

The two Last Chance Academy sites, at 6361 W. Chicago and 11241 Gunston, are among the 13 sites where outside contractors hired by the district run programs for high school dropouts returning to school. The students at the academy can learn skills in cosmetology, building trades and medical coding in addition to taking basic courses like math, science and English.

At programs like the academy's, contractors currently receive 75 percent ($5,625) of the $7,500 per full-time student the state pays DPS per student. The district keeps the remaining money, says Lekan Oguntoyinbo, DPS spokesman. He says about 1,600 kids are in the program.

The problem? For instructors to teach at these schools without being part of the DFT's collective bargaining agreement, the union must sign off on the deal. So far, it's refusing to do that.

"Given the strike and the late start, the DFT board has voted to grant the waivers," says Horace Sheffield, the pastor at New Galilee Baptist Church who runs the Last Chance Academy program. "It's just that we've not been able to come to some definite understanding in terms of what the DFT expects in return for granting those waivers."

The district released a statement last week claiming the union's refusal to grant waivers "may force [a] shut down of program[s] for high school dropouts." The statement says the union had initially demanded $22 million from the district as a condition for granting the waiver but is now asking for attorney's fees related to the September strike.

Given that the district says its cut is about $1.5 million, you could see why it balked at coughing up the $22 mill. It claims to have offered the teachers union half of its gross take, but that the DFT refused, saying it wants half plus about $120,000 in legal fees and other costs racked up during the strike.

In a prepared statement issued by DFT President Janna Garrison (who didn't return telephone calls before press time), the union claims it ain't about the cash. Really? According to the DTF, the teachers want set standards.

"We wish to develop a uniform policy with regard to ensuring that state accreditation mandates are met, certified teachers are being employed, and adequate, up-to-date learning materials and supplies are readily available at these schools," Garrison states.

Sheffield says he's been involved, on behalf of the contractors, in the negotiations. At one point, he says, the contractors agreed to take a cut to help fund the union's demands, but as the dispute dragged on they changed their minds and went back to demanding their full share.

So what's the lesson in all this, kids?

When you fight, everyone loses.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at NewsHits@metrotimes.com or

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