During a union rally in early March in Lansing against a bill that would give new powers to appointed emergency managers, the president of a state teachers’ union compared the legislation to slavery.

“It’s again a way to say to labor, ‘you don’t count,’” said Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association.  “It’s a way to say to employees: ‘get back.’ I believe it’s just like being in the slave days.”

“It’s again a way to say to labor, ‘you don’t count,’” said Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association.  “It’s a way to say to employees: ‘get back.’ I believe it’s just like being in the slave days.”

Salters didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Emergency managers are appointed by the Governor to take over financially struggling schools and municipalities. Salters’ union represents Michigan’s public school teachers, which have the best combination of salaries and benefits in the country when compared to their peers, according to an expert from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Michael Van Beek, the Mackinac Center’s education policy director, said that the average Michigan salary for teachers is among the highest in the country and becomes the highest when differences in state wealth are factored in. And Van Beek added that only five states spend a larger portion of instructional cost on teachers’ benefits than Michigan.

“We do a really good job of compensating teachers,” Van Beek said.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the average classroom teacher has a $62,000 per year salary in Michigan. Mackinac Center research shows that the average family health insurance plan for a teacher costs the school $17,000 a year, of which the teacher contributes about $680 a year – or 4 percent.

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The average private sector employee in Michigan with a health care plan contributes 20 percent of the cost of the plan.

Most teachers contribute about 7-percent of their salary towards the state’s defined-benefit pension system. A 30-year teacher with a final average salary of $70,000 would get a $31,500 annual pension.

The original version of this story was posted online on Mar. 11, 2011.

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Many people believe public schools need more money until they hear how much the schools spend each year per pupil.

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