By Steve Gunn

DETROIT – It’s no secret that Detroit Public Schools have been a financial mess for several years.

Rising costs, large-scale theft and fraud, dwindling enrollment and poor management have led to budget deficits reportedly as high as $327 million.

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In the summer of 2009, the district announced it was laying off 1,700 employees, many of them teachers, to help shrink a $285 million budget deficit. A year later the district announced 2,000 more layoffs to help address a $219 million shortfall.

At one point DPS officials openly discussed the possibility of bankruptcy. The district has been under the direction of a state-appointed emergency financial manager since 2010.

But in the midst of all the financial turmoil and cutbacks, DPS spent millions of dollars in 2010-11 on expensive items stipulated by the Detroit Federation of Teachers collective bargaining agreement.

They included automatic “step” salary increases for the remaining teachers ($15.6 million), reimbursement for unused sick days ($12.5 million), longevity bonuses ($665,336), “super step” pay increases ($435,000) and “overage pay” for teachers with a few extra kids in their classrooms ($376,082).

Those are just a few of the questionable expenditures highlighted in the latest edition of EAGnews’ continuing series on union labor costs in metropolitan school districts titled  “Sucking the Life Out of America’s Public Schools: The Expense of Teachers Union Contracts, Part 3, Detroit Federation of Teachers Contract.

The Detroit report follows similar reports released over the past few weeks regarding the Milwaukee and Minneapolis school districts. Over the next few months EAGnews will release seven more reports exploring the hidden costs of teachers union contracts in big city school districts across the nation.

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Next week’s report will focus on the cash-strapped Philadelphia school district.