Average Teacher Salaries Decline, But Individual Educators Get More

Pay levels in one district show, 'It's complicated'

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the average teacher salary at the Chippewa Valley school district in Macomb County fell by $3,400 in four years, from $73,495 in 2011 to $70,016 in 2015.

However, an analysis of individual teacher salaries suggests that no Chippewa Valley teacher experienced a pay cut during this period, and starting teachers did especially well. The only instructors who did not get raises appear to be those who, due to their high seniority, were already getting the top-tier amount fixed in the district’s union contract — about $90,000 a year.

So how can nearly everyone get paid more if the average pay has fallen?

The answer may be that more high-seniority teachers were collecting the top-tier amount in 2010 than in 2015. When a large number of these veterans retired and were replaced by younger teachers in lower pay tiers, it reduced the districtwide average — even though it’s likely that no individual teacher is getting any less.

That last conclusion is not definitive as it is based on a sample of just 30 individuals. But it is supported by the terms of the district’s teachers contract, and together these sources tell a very different story than what the average pay figures imply.

Michigan teacher compensation is a complex issue, with different pay scales in every school district. Under school union contracts, all salaries are based solely on years of seniority and the number of academic credentials an individual teacher has accrued. The subject is getting even more tricky because a growing number of contracts contain complicated provisions that make increases contingent on enrollment and funding.

Chippewa Valley sheds light on what appears to be an oddity when comparing average teacher salaries over time. According to a Michigan Department of Education database, average teacher pay in the district dropped 4.7 percent over four years.

But the average pay of teachers in a sample from the same district rose 8.3 percent during this period, from $64,699 to $70,072. The figures were not adjusted for inflation, but they did outpace it. None of the 30 teachers reviewed experienced a pay cut, and only those who were already in the highest pay tier failed to get a raise.

School officials often insinuate that low starting pay for new teachers is a barrier to attracting bright young staff. Yet the three new Chippewa Valley teachers in the sample saw huge increases over four years. Their salaries rose from the bottom-tier amount of $32,195 in 2010-11 to $48,983 just four years later.

Moreover, under the current union contract, Chippewa Valley employees reach the top tier of the scale after just 11 years. Five of the teachers in the sample were already at the “top of the scale,” collecting between $87,161 and $91,723 annually (the differences are due to level of education attained).

Chippewa Valley also benefitted from having a healthy financial outlook during the five years for which salaries were analyzed, mostly due to a slight increase in enrollment. The district schooled 16,194 students in 2010-11, which increased to 16,472 students in 2014-15. Its reserve fund balance grew by $3.2 to $22 million during the period, with an overall general fund budget of $146.4 million.

The district’s only financial red flag is its rising payments for pensions. The Macomb County district’s contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System rose from just under $14 million in 2014 to more than $18 million in 2015.

Chippewa Valley had 16,472 students enrolled in the 2014-15 school year, with 866 full-time teaching positions.


Note to Readers: This is the first in a series in which Michigan Capitol Confidential will analyze compensation changes in some of the state’s largest school districts. As in this article, we will examine the actual pay of individual teachers as shown in data received in responses to Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the districts.

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.