In a recent newspaper article, the superintendent of the Fowlerville school district said: “There are no employees are [sic] getting raises. Every position in the district, from mine on down, has taken concessions.”

To those not familiar with the public school bureaucracy’s jargon, this may sound like no employees in that district will get an increase in their salary. That’s not the case. The tip-off comes in the next line: “We do have contractual obligations that have step increments that occur at various times.”

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In other words, no employees are getting raises, except the employees who are getting raises.

Here’s how it works. In unionized public schools, there are three kinds of pay raises: “across-the-board,” “step” and “lane.” The first describes increases that are periodically given to all employees under the terms of a union contract.

“Step” and “lane” increases are automatically given to particular employees for racking-up another year on the job (“step”), or acquiring another academic credential (“lane”). In many cases, even if employees get no “across-the-board” increase, they still receive their “step” and “lane” pay bumps.

As demonstrated by the superintendent’s quotes above, many of those immersed within the public school bureaucracy take those “step” and “lane” pay hikes for granted, treating them as virtual entitlements.

This is why pay freezes in the unionized public school world don’t mean the same thing as pay freezes in the real world.

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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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