News Story

Myths and Exaggerations About Teacher Pay

Rachel Brougham recently left her job as the assistant news editor of the Petoskey News-Review but continues to write for the daily newspaper. In her most recent column published Friday, Brougham celebrates public school teachers, but does so by repeating some common media myths and exaggerations about teacher compensation.

Several statements in Brougham’s column deserve a closer look.

Brougham: “Many starting salaries are barely $30,000.”

It’s rare to find a teacher’s starting salary at “barely $30,000” in Michigan.

At the Benton Harbor Area Schools, a starting teacher with a bachelor's degree gets $31,582. The Eau Claire school district located near the Indiana border pays new teachers $32,528.

But most school districts pay more for first-year teachers.

The National Education Association estimated the average starting salary for Michigan teachers was $35,901 in 2012-13, which is just shy of the national average ($36,141). That's the most recent data available.

At school districts within the readership area served by Petoskey News, teachers start at much higher salaries.

In Petoskey, a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree gets $37,960. In nearby Harbor Springs Public Schools, the figure is $42,271. Like all the amounts listed here, this does not include health insurance benefits or defined-benefit pension contributions made by the employer.

And teachers don’t stay at those starting salary levels for long. In Petoskey, in 10 years the employee who started at just under $38,000 is getting $57,898 plus benefits. Teachers who add academic credentials make more.

Brougham: “So tell me again how teachers are overpaid. Explain to me how you think teachers get paid full-time wages for part-time work. And describe for me just how teachers should be able to keep up with an increase in workload and improve student test scores while we pay them less, give them less in funding and constantly tell him it's all their fault.”

The notion that teachers are being paid less is not accurate.

Thirteen of the 17 largest school districts in Michigan gave some type of pay raise to their teachers in 2014-15, according to a survey of the schools done by Michigan Capitol Confidential. The pay increases were either in the form of a bonus or a seniority-based “step increase.” Of those four large school districts that didn’t give raises, only Waterford cut pay in 2014-15, by 1 percent.

Flint Community Schools, Detroit Public Schools and Warren Consolidated Schools didn’t respond to requests asking about raises. The school districts' teacher contracts list variables for raises to occur which could not be determined within the union contract. Overspending has placed all three of these districts in debt as of the 2014-15 school year.

Brougham: “Nationally, the average salary for public school teachers — including those with decades of experience in the classroom — is less than $57,000.”

The National Education Association estimated the average teacher salary in Michigan at $62,166 in 2013-14, the most recent year data is available. That is 11th-highest in the nation. New York had the highest average salary at $76,409.

Conventional public school teachers in Michigan with “decades of experience” would be at the very top of the union pay scale in and earn more than $57,000, especially if the teacher acquired a master’s degree.

In Harbor Springs, a teacher with 20 years of experience would make $68,289 with a bachelor’s and $76,650 with a master’s degree. In Petoskey, a 20-year teacher would earn $63,479 with a bachelor’s degree and $68,869 with a master’s.

At the Lansing School District, a 20-year teacher would earn $59,985 with a bachelor’s and $69,979 with a master’s.

Some districts have much more lucrative pay scales.

Walled Lake Consolidated Schools in Oakland County pays a 20-year teacher $75,326 with a bachelor’s and $85,609 with a master’s.


See also:

A Closer Look At Teacher Salaries In Michigan

They Myth of Teacher Poverty

Teacher Quits, Rips GOP 'Goons' - Who Gave Her District $5.3 Million Extra Despite Fewer Students