Maryanne Levine is a full-time elementary school teacher with the Chippewa Valley School District who was elected to the Michigan Education Association board of directors. The district releases her from teaching responsibilities so that she can deal 100 percent with union issues. But Chippewa Valley still pays for $103,807 of Levine’s $145,117 total compensation. The union pays the remaining $41,310.
Larry Schulte, another of the district’s full-time elementary teachers, is allowed to spend half of his time involved in union business. Chippewa Valley pays $104,480 of his $125,135 total compensation. The union pays the remaining $20,655.
Statewide, there are 39 school districts that paid teachers to work at least half their time on union activities, with 25 of those districts paying for full release time. These 39 districts combined to pay at least $2.7 million to cover the costs of teachers who work on union business. Two weeks ago, the MEA sent a survey to its membership that included a request to seek approval to initiate a “work stoppage.” Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan.
Michigan Capitol Confidential sent a Freedom of Information Act request for the details of the arrangements between school districts and their local union officials.
Taylor School District pays Jeffrey Woodford $96,419 in total compensation and allows him to spend 75 percent of his time on union business. The other 25 percent of the time he teaches at Truman High School. Linda Moore is a middle school science teacher in Taylor with $88,016 in total compensation, and she is allowed to spend 50 percent of her time on union business.
The superintendents at the Chippewa Valley and Taylor districts didn’t return messages seeking comment regarding why the district would subsidize the cost for union-related activities.
Michael Van Beek, director of the education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the cost is two-fold for districts.
“Taxpayers pay twice when districts grant unions these privileges,” Van Beek wrote in an e-mail. “They’ve got to foot the bill for the union boss’ pay and for the pay of somebody else to actually teach while the union boss enjoys release time. It’s an arrangement that has no positive impact for students, parents or taxpayers.”
Not all districts absorb the cost of teachers with union responsibilities. In the Dearborn Public Schools, the union pays for 100 percent of the cost.
But other districts pay the entire salary. Troy paid its union official $139,340 in total compensation, which includes salary, benefits and retirement contributions.
Troy School District spokesman Jasen Witt said the district pays for the union representative because it was included in the union contract “decades ago.”
“Given its current status as a collectively-bargained benefit for the union membership, any change to this provision is subject to the collective bargaining process,” Witt wrote in an e-mail.
Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said districts paying teachers to do union work is similar to a cozy relationship between municipalities and unions. He said many municipalities are charging taxpayers for the expense of collecting property taxes. Yet, many municipalities will provide unions the benefit of taking out union dues from employees’ paychecks at no cost.
“They have no problem gouging taxpayers for every penny they can extract, but there is nothing they won’t do for free for the union bosses,” Drolet said. “Why is it? Most school boards know who they work for. They work for the union. … They are the ones that control the elections. They have plenty of money to spend on union organizing stuff. But when it comes to the students, ‘Oh. No. We don’t have anything left.’ ”