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School District With Continual Deficits Still Handing Out Raises

Redford Union finds 'unusual way' to give more money to employees despite 'freezing' its salary schedule

The Redford Union Schools district will have a budget deficit for four consecutive years when the 2012-13 school year starts, and the school district has been in the black only twice since 2000-01.

But the district still found a way to give its teachers raises despite "freezing" its salary schedule.

The teachers' union contract calls for the customary step increases of 4 percent for teachers in their first 12 years — something districts offered in the past but some have temporarily frozen due to budget issues. Teachers at the top of the scale normally would not see their salary increase via steps after hitting their 12th year.

However, the Redford Union district agreed to a 13th step in the 2011-12 school year and a 14th step in 2012-13 that increased the pay of top-of-the-scale teachers by as much as 5 percent each year, according to the contract. The extra steps boosted top-of-the-scale pay from $75,251 a year to $83,036. According to the state, 74 percent of the Redford Union teachers had 10 years or more experience. The average salary of a Redford Union teacher was $66,033 in 2010-11.

Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, questioned how a district could offer pay increases of 4 percent to 5 percent while in deficit.

"You don't get away with that for too long in the private sector," Owens said. "How do you do that? Clearly they are operating under a different model than the private sector."

Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said technically the district could say it had frozen its pay scale for three years because the salary levels for each year of experience did not change. But teachers earn more each year because subsequent years pay more than the previous year they taught.

"Effectively, every teacher gets a pay increase by adding an additional step," Van Beek said.

Van Beek said those increases would also boost the lifetime pension for retiring teachers since the highest three years of gross salary factor into pension calculations. The contract expires in 2012-13.

Redford Union had a $1.57 million deficit in 2009-10 and a $1.75 million deficit in 2010-11. The district spent $28.15 million on operating expenditures in 2010-11. A district spokeswoman said the district was in deficit in 2011-12 and would be in deficit in 2012-13, but didn’t provide specific numbers.

To try and deal with its deficit problems, the district has privatized custodial and transportation services. According to the deficit-elimination plan Redford Union turned in to the state, that move would privatize 16 custodial and 12 bus driver positions.

Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education, said the state monitors districts that spend more than they take in.

"They have historically made interim progress in eliminating that deficit and we continue to work with the district until the deficit is eliminated,” Ellis said.

In some instances, school districts make changes to existing teacher contracts and don't post the changes on the district website. The district reported to the state in July 2011 in its deficit-elimination plan that no wage concessions have been granted by its unions.

Michigan Capitol Confidential tried to verify that no changes were made to the existing Redford Union teachers’ contract, but didn’t get much cooperation from school district officials. 

Redford Union School Board President Mark Wierimaa didn’t respond to an email asking about specifics of the teachers' contract.

Redford Union Superintendent Ron Stoneman and teacher union president Steve Losey didn’t cooperate when asked about specifics of the contract.

Stoneman was sent an email specifically asking about aspects of the contract — such as whether it was true that the district paid 100 percent of health care premiums — and responded: "Your information is not accurate.” He didn't respond to a request to clarify what was "not accurate."

Losey was posed two similar questions about the contract, and if the district paid 100 percent of health care premiums, and simply said: “No.” He also didn’t respond to a follow-up request asking for specifics of what wasn’t accurate.

Lynda Scheel, executive assistant to the superintendent, answered several questions via email but didn’t respond to follow-up questions about specifically what percentage of health care costs the district paid for its teachers.

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See also:

District's Union Contract Ensures Bonus Money For Teachers

Teacher Union Poverty Claims Fail Fact Test

Coverage of School District Claiming Cuts

Michigan Capitol Confidential Education Coverage

Central Michigan University economist Jason Taylor explains how raising the minimum wage will hurt teen workers trying to find their first job. See more at "Raising the Minimum Wage, Lowering Opportunity."


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