Senate Bill 1148, introduced recently by Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, would limit the total compensation of public school superintendents to 75 percent of what the governor is paid and prohibit districts from paying any teacher more than what a state legislator makes.

That works out to a cap of $132,750 a year in salary and benefits for superintendents (75 percent of the governor's $177,000 annual salary), and a $79,650 maximum annual salary for teachers. The bill uses the base pay of legislators and does not include the additional $12,000 a year they receive for expenses. There are 551 districts in the state, but SB1148 does not indicate how many would be affected by such a change to superitendent compensation. 

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As The Holland Sentinel pointed out, the Mackinac Center estimates about 73 percent of public school spending goes toward employee salaries and benefits. It's unclear how much the state could save by capping teacher salaries since the Michigan Department of Education reports that average salaries in districts range anywhere from $86,000 (Gross Pointe) to $35,000 (Mid Peninsula). What is clear though is that capping superintendent compensation will have little effect on school budgets. Of all Michigan public school expenditures in 2007-2008, less than 1 percent went to pay superintendent salaries and benefits, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

On the benefits side, Center analysts estimate the state could save $451 million per year by using consumer-driven health plans with health savings accounts for school employees. Other ways schools can save a larger amount of money include privatizing non-core support services, repealing the state's prevailing wage law that forces schools to spend an additional $250 million a year on construction, and embracing schools-of-choice.

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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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