News Story

Teacher Says She Qualifies For Food Stamps; School Salary Schedule Suggests Otherwise

Five-year teacher would make at least $41K per year with full benefits and pension

A Grand Rapids Public Schools teacher says she qualifies for food stamps and that she could make more money as a substitute teacher, but her claims don’t hold up to scrutiny. 

Second-grade teacher Tina Ratliff appeared before the school board recently and said she has five years of service with a two-week take-home pay of $555.39. The school district confirmed she is a full-time teacher.

"I am a five-year teacher who brings home $555.39 for two weeks and who currently qualifies for a Bridge Card," Ratliff was quoted by MLive telling the school board. "How is this possible?"

A fifth-year teacher in Grand Rapids would make $41,443 with a bachelor's degree, and $46,532 with a master's degree, based on 191-day work schedule, according to the teacher's contract. As of 2011, 58 percent of the teachers in the Grand Rapids school district had master's degrees.

The Grand Rapids district uses the Professional Education Services Group to handle its substitute teacher scheduling. The PESG pays a substitute teacher $85 a day. A fifth-year teacher in the Grand Rapids district would earn between $216 and $243 per day, depending on level of education.

Ratliff also ignored the cost of her lucrative health care insurance plan and her retirement benefits, which cost the district about $26,000 a year for a teacher with five years of experience. A substitute teacher working the 191-day schedule would make $16,235 and the district wouldn't pay for health insurance or have to make the pension and retiree health care payments.

A family plan health care package for a teacher in the Grand Rapids district cost $16,908 a year, according to the district. The average cost of a private sector family health insurance plan in Michigan in 2011 was $10,988, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Teachers in the state of Michigan are required to pay as much as 20 percent for health care. Grand Rapids teachers were paying 11 percent, according to the district. Teachers generally pay on average 5.45 percent of their salary to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.

The school district also has to make contributions to the pension plan and retiree health care for its employees, which ranges from 20.9 percent to 26.9 percent of that employee’s total payroll. So if Ratliff earned the minimum salary of $41,443 for a five-year teacher, and the district paid the average of 24.3 percent, it would contribute $10,070.

"You can't just pretend those benefits don't exist," said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Paying for them reduces her take home pay. She has to pay for them. But they are there."

Figuring out if a fifth-year teacher would qualify for food stamps is not simple, according to the state.

"Really, it ends up being case-by-case when people apply, and then we go through all of their unique circumstances,” said Dave Akerly, spokesman for the Department of Human Services.

However, welfare recipients do have to meet certain income criteria to be eligible. At the minimum gross salary of $41,443 for a five-year teacher, that person would have to have a household of seven people to be eligible. 

Grand Rapids Public Schools Spokesman John Helmholdt didn’t respond to requests for comment.


See also:

Teacher and Spouse Make $140K Per Year, 'Adamant' That Their Children Will 'Never' Be Educators

Reality Check: Is Teacher Pay So Low They Cannot 'Eat and Have a Life'?

Teacher Made Over $80K Per Year, Retires With a Pension of Over $40K — Claims 'Violation of Trust'

MEA President Repeats 'Disingenuous' Claim About Teacher Pay

MEA's Underpaid Teacher Claims Don't Fit With The Facts

Are Teachers With Master's Degrees Forced To Take Food Stamps?

Retired Educator Says He 'Would Not Have Gone Into Teaching' With Proposed Pension Reform

Teacher Upset She Can't Retire at 47

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.