'I'm angry that he has painted me inaccurately. I'm more angry that he continues to deceive good teachers who deserve good leadership'
Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook has made clear that he thinks the state's taxpayers aren't paying enough into the system that funds education in the state.
To make his case, he's repeatedly said funding has been cut by $1 billion, which isn't true, and he's made factually incorrect claims about the number of school districts in deficit.
His most recent target is Jim Perialas, president of the Roscommon Teachers Association, an independent teachers' union that was formed after Roscommon teachers voted to decertify and form a local union last year. Cook sent out an email recently to MEA members that said Perialas negotiated a contract that cut compensation for Roscommon teachers "up to 20 percent." The email went on to attack Perialas, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and others who support the state's right-to-work law, which gives teachers the freedom to choose whether they want to financially support a union in order to have a job.
The problem is that Cook's claims about 20 percent cuts aren't true, Perialas said.
"I still don't know how that would approach 20 percent with any kind of math," he said. "I'm angry that he has painted me inaccurately. I'm more angry that he continues to deceive good teachers who deserve good leadership."
Perialas said the Roscommon Teachers Association reduced its 2012-13 pay scale by 4 percent. However, it allowed teachers to get step increases. That meant some teachers took small reductions while others saw small increases depending on how large a raise they received with their step increase.
For example, a sixth-year teacher with a master's degree would have made $50,199 before the 4 percent pay scale reduction. The next year, that same teacher would move up one step and be a seventh-year teacher and make $50,294, an increase of $95 despite the salary reduction. Some teachers with more years of service saw reductions. For example, a 20-year teacher with a master's degree made $68,186 in 2011-12 and would see that salary drop to $66,222 in 2012-13.
Perialas said the only other cost Cook could be referring to is the additional 10 percent teachers had to pay for health care, which was mandated by a state law. Roscommon teachers had been paying 10 percent of health care premiums in 2011-12, but with the new contract the next year, the state law kicked in and contributions went to 20 percent.
Still, Perialas said that wouldn't be a 20 percent drop in compensation.
Additionally, Perialas said Roscommon teachers still make more money than nearby districts.
For example, a fifth-year teacher with a master's degree at Crawford AuSable School District in Grayling earns $43,273 in 2013-14, while a fifth-year teacher with a master's degree in Roscommon made $46,266 in 2012-13 even with the 4-percent reduction. The two districts are about 15 miles apart.
A Houghton Lake fifth-year teacher with a master's degree made $40,417 in 2012-13. Houghton Lake is about 25 miles from Roscommon.
Perialas said even when they were members of the MEA, the union seldom provided any help during negotiations. As lead negotiator, Perialas said when he requested assistance from the MEA would just send generic manuals on negotiating or databases with generic information.
Cook didn't respond to a request for comment.
The 4 percent reduction in the 2012-13 salary scale came as the Roscommon school district projected a $1.6 million deficit in 2012-13 and a $830,043 deficit in 2013-14.
Cook also criticized Perialas for making any concessions when the Roscommon school district's general fund balance was at "24.7 percent." However, according to the school district's budget, Roscommon had to use $1.6 million of its fund balance in 2012-13 to cover its deficit, dropping it from $3 million to $1.3 million in one year.
"At this point, Roscommon is overspending, and a district's largest expenditure is on personnel," said Audrey Spalding, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s director of education policy. "Reducing salary costs was the best way to address Roscommon's deficit. These are difficult decisions, true, but the district would be risking financial distress or worse if it followed Cook's advice."
Here is a video of Perialas talking about the Roscommon experience: