Union Contract Delivers Five-Year Salary Freeze for State's Teacher of the Year

'Unions call teachers professionals – but they are paid ... like assembly line workers'

In May, the state Department of Education named Tracy Horodyski as Michigan’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year.

But Horodyski, who has 16 years of classroom experience teaching at Kenowa Hills Public Schools in Kent County, won’t see any salary raise coming from the school district, due to a provision in her union contract.

Like all Michigan teachers union contracts, the one at Kenowa Hills bases an individual's salary on just two criteria – the number of educational credentials acquired and years of service. The Kenowa Hills Public Schools teachers contract has 28 seniority-based pay tiers or "steps." There is generally one step per year, and under the Kenowa Hills contract, teachers in steps 16 to 21 don’t receive a salary increase. One of those teachers is Tracy Horodyski. The contract does call for small off-schedule payments if certain funding and enrollment goals are met.

Horodyski had a base salary of $70,412 in 2014-15 and earned another $2,734 for extra duties performed, including coaching a school athletic team.

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Almost all teachers at Michigan’s traditional public school districts are covered by a union contract. The terms of those contracts still applies to employees who choose to exercise their right under the state's right-to-work law to not support the union financially.

But there is a movement called "Worker's Choice" that would give those school employees who leave the union the opportunity to negotiate their own contracts and benefits with the school district.

"Unions call teachers professionals – but they are paid more like assembly line workers – with a lockstep pay scale," said Larry Sand, a former New York teacher who started up the California Teachers Empowerment Network to inform teachers on educational issues. "Professionals get what they deserve to be paid – good doctors make more money than mediocre ones and good lawyers command greater fees than average ones. As professionals, why shouldn't teachers be treated like doctors and lawyers?"

"Instead of representing all workers, unions should be members-only organizations," Sand said. "Those who don't want to be part of the union should not be forced to be represented by them."

Unions have been highly critical of people who leave via right-to-work. These individuals are still bound by all the union contract’s provisions.

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook has called right-to-work “freedom to freeload.” In one MEA press release, Cook used the term “freeload,” “freeloading,” or “freeloader” eight times.

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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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