News Story

Superintendent Concerned Teachers Will Bolt After Pay Cuts

But district has no merit pay system to reward good teachers

The head of the Waterford School District said there is concern among top district administrators that a prolonged salary freeze could lead to a loss of teachers.

First-year Superintendent Keith Wunderlich said the Oakland County district’s teachers received raises in 2012-13, but had a 1-percent pay reduction in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

"There is some concern at the board level and principal level about our loss of teachers as a result of the prolonged wage freeze," Wunderlich said in an email. "Our younger teachers at the bottom of the scale are going elsewhere for a wage increase."

Wunderlich said Waterford has lost six teachers to other districts and one to another career.

However, Wunderlich also confirmed that the district doesn’t have a merit pay system for teachers. The state passed a 2010 law that requires districts to include job performance and accomplishments "as a significant factor” when compensating teachers.

The contract between the union and the Waterford district states that a first-year teacher would make $39,948 a year. The average salary of teachers in the district was $58,338 in 2013-14, according to the Michigan Department of Education. As of 2013-14, there were 709 teachers in the district.

Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said an effective merit pay policy would help Waterford’s problems. Drolet said school districts could reward their better teachers with more money, including exceptional younger ones whose only way to earn more, other than taking on extra non-classroom tasks, is accumulating additional years of seniority.

“What the district has to be worried about is not losing teachers, but losing their best teachers,” Drolet said. “Losing six teachers is a very small problem. Losing six top teachers is a bigger problem. They need to be fighting for a system that rewards and retains their top teachers.”

Waterford is like many Michigan school districts dealing with declining enrollment. In the case of Waterford, though, a substantial enrollment decline has led to a curious fact: Its per pupil funding from all state sources is up, but its overall funding is down.

The state gives its district a foundation allowance, accounting for roughly 85 percent of all state aid, based on enrollment. Since the foundation allowance follows the student, fewer students means less in funds from the allowance. A decline of 1,542 students between 2010-11 (when 11,288 were enrolled) and 2014-15 (when only 9,746 were) means a loss of $11.8 million in the foundation allowance.

Though the foundation allowance is a substantial portion of state aid, districts do receive other grants from the state. Taking those other grants into account, Waterford received $2 million less in total state funds in 2014-15 than it did in 2010-11. So when all state funding is accounted for — the foundation allowance, special education money and other funds — spread out over a smaller number of students, the district actually received $861 more per student in 2014-15 than it did in 2010-11.

The decline in enrollment is hitting districts from another direction, as they must help shore up an underfunded pension system that was built out during a time when the state needed more teachers than it currently requires. Districts are being squeezed by increasingly larger payments into the school employee pension system. Waterford paid $9.5 million into the retirement system in 2012. Two years later, that payment ballooned 40 percent to $13.37 million. The district's general fund budget for the 2015-16 school year is $104.9 million.

Michigan Capitol Confidential surveyed the 20 largest school districts about teacher raises in the 2014-15 school year. Of the 17 districts that responded, 13 reported giving some type of salary increase that year. Waterford was the only district that reported salary reductions.


See also:

While Schools Ignore Merit Pay Law, State Has No Authority to Enforce It

Of Course Merit Pay Is a Good Idea

School District Sees Success Through Merit Pay

Union Wants High Quality Teachers but Doesn't Want to Pay Them