News Story

Study: Most School Districts Violating Merit Pay Law

Blissfield Community Schools finds a way to reward its best teachers

Imagine a pay system where Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who earns a salary of $21 million a year, instead was forced to take the same $2.1 million a year salary as Detroit Tigers reserve player Ryan Raburn.

For years, that's exactly how Michigan’s public schools have paid teachers. Salaries were determined by seniority and level of education. Performance wasn’t factored in.

"The problem with teachers, we don't even know who the Ryan Raburns are," said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Schools have said, 'We are not going to keep track of batting averages. So we are going to pay you all the same.' "

That changed in 2010 when merit pay was enacted into law by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and later in 2011 when state laws mandated teachers be evaluated.

Most school districts ignored the merit pay law, according to a study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. About 80 percent of school districts surveyed signed contracts with teachers' unions without implementing any type of merit pay. Most of the districts that offered what they said was merit pay handed out one-time bonuses to teachers. For some of those districts, that bonus was $1.

However, one public school district is changing the way it pays its teacher and is scrapping the traditional model.

At Blissfield Community Schools in Lenawee County, salaries this year for teachers were frozen at the 2011-12 level. New teachers are hired with a salary determined by the school board with a minimum of $32,000. Any other salary reduction or raise is determined by the board of education and is based on the teacher's performance.

"While we are just in the initial stages of implementation this fall, the concept was well received with over 70 percent of the teachers voting last spring to support its implementation," said Blissfield Superintendent Scott Moellenberndt. "While we have encountered a few minor bugs that needed clarification regarding documented attendance at home events, the majority of this new process will not be implemented until teacher evaluations are completed later this spring and used in determining compensation for the 2013-14 school year."

The Teachers’ Tenure Act places certain restrictions on how a district can reduce a teacher's salary. It limits districts to reducing a teacher's salary by more than 30 days compensation.

Here is a video done discussing the merit pay system in Blissfield:

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.