(Editor's note: The increase in benefits per full-time teacher was incorrectly listed as 50 percent; this has been updated to the correct figure of 37 percent.)

According to new data just released by the Michigan Department of Education for the 2009-2010 school year, the average teacher salary in Michigan has risen for the 13th consecutive year. This most recent data puts the figure at $63,024. If charter schools are excluded, this raises the average salary figure for unionized teachers in conventional districts to $63,445.

There’s less than meets the eye in the salary figures, however, since after adjusting for inflation, teacher salaries are up just 2 percent since 2000.

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Benefits, however, are a completely different story: According to the same data used by the MDE to calculate the average teacher salary, from 2000 to 2010, benefits per full-time classroom teacher rose by 37 percent even after adjusting for inflation (this does not include charter school teachers).

This might seem surprising to anyone following recent news about the public schools and Michigan’s budget. For example, over the past few years countless press reports have uncritically reported repeated claims from the school employee union that its members have made significant “concessions.” Other reports have focused on pronouncements from many school districts that they’ve reduced budgets so significantly that these are now “cut to the bone.” 

In one sense, it really shouldn’t be surprising that average teacher compensation keeps on rising. Almost all districts in the state agree to grant automatic pay increases to teachers based solely on years on the job and the number of pedagogy degrees accumulated. Additionally, when declines in enrollment cause the number of staff to be trimmed, districts rely exclusively on a seniority-based “last in, first out” system to determine who goes and who stays. The newest and least expensive teachers are always the ones to get pink-slipped first, regardless of whether or not they may be effective at getting students to learn.

The $63,024 average salary figure is derived by dividing the payroll expense for “basic programs” (not special, compensatory or vocational education) by the number of full-time-equivalent basic program certified teachers.

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