Howell administrator says pay not nearly enough
Howell Public Schools Superintendent Ron Wilson says teachers need their salaries raised significantly to ensure teaching career stays viable.
He said he recently talked to a third-year teacher in his district who has a bachelor’s degree, three children and a stay-at-home wife. According to the district's union contract, that teacher would make $40,530 a year. Wilson said the teacher’s children are eligible for the reduced/free lunch program.
"You're going to see kids making a choice not to go into education because they don't want to live like paupers. It's unfortunate," Wilson told the Livingston Daily newspaper.
"I start to wonder if they're even going to be able to have enough money to put gas in their car and get to work.”
Wilson says teacher’s starting salaries should be raised by $10,000 to $12,000 a year so schools can attract "the best and brightest." The superintendent asked "how do you justify" someone with no education going to the auto industry and making $33,000 a year with someone with a bachelor’s degree with college loans who makes a similar salary.
General Motors raised its starting pay in 2011 to $16 an hour, or about $33,280 a year.
The starting salary for a teacher in Howell with a bachelor's degree is $37,452. After 13 years, the top of scale is $72,958. The average salary of a Howell teacher is $63,359, according to the state of Michigan.
But many free-market advocates take issue with Wilson’s reasoning.
Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said to compare auto workers with teachers is unrealistic because the autoworker works 12-months a year while a teacher is contractually obligated for nine months.
"If he wants to compare apples to apples, we need to do some converting," Owens said. Howell’s starting teaching salary converted to 12 months equates to $49,936 a year.
"Let’s take that autoworker. He gets married and has three kids. Should GM pay him $50,000?" Owens said. "He has three kids at home and his wife doesn’t work. Isn’t that the way the private market works? I’m being facetious.
"If that job in the auto plant is so desirable, nothing stops a teacher from deciding not to go to college and try for that auto job. Are we losing a lot of teachers to the auto plant? I doubt it."
Owens said a teacher's starting salary isn't out of line what other professional earn in other occupations.
A bachelor’s degree in education has a median salary of $36,800, according to payscale.com's 2011-12 college salary report. That is higher than starting salaries for degrees in criminal justice ($35,300), health care administration ($36,700), paralegal law ($35,300), sociology ($36,100), and public health ($35,500).
"Everybody starts out at the first job and it’s not the dream job," Owens said.
Wendy Day, a tea party activist who served on the Howell Public School Board, said that Wilson’s example of the teacher with three children and the stay-at-home wife was about choices.
"That’s a choice you make. Going into education is all about choice. They always say it's not about the money. They know the consequences. They know the pay level. They also know there are tons of benefits," Day said. "It's almost like they are surprised what they get paid.
"Being a stay-at-home mom with three kids at $40,000-a-year is not a unique struggle. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that. It's a choice to be a stay-at-home mom. It's a choice to have three kids. It's a choice to have that career. They are all great choices and they have wonderful benefits. But it is still a choice."
Michael Van Beek, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's director of education policy, said raising teacher pay scales doesn't necessary reward the "best and the brightest."
He said that's because the public school's pay schedule is based solely on level of education and years of service.
Michigan Capitol Confidential reported that seven gym teachers in Troy Public Schools made more money than a science teacher honored as a national teacher of the year.
"If there were an open market for teachers, high-performing ones would probably be compensated better than they currently are," Van Beek said. "The problem is that union contracts distort the teacher labor market and prohibit schools from paying good teachers more. All teachers are paid the same regardless of their performance, and this artificially reduces the wages of the best teachers."