News Story

Pay for New Ann Arbor Teachers Up 24-44 Percent in Four Years

Veteran teachers see slight decrease; payments to pension system soar

In a speech before the Ann Arbor Board of Education this May, teacher Dan Ezekiel painted a bleak picture of compensation for teachers.

Ezekiel, a science teacher who also is involved in local politics by serving on various county and city boards and commissions, was concerned about the pay of starting teachers in the district. He said he makes $3,000 less than he did eight years ago.

Michigan Capitol Confidential put in a Freedom of Information Act request for teacher salaries in Ann Arbor for the years 2010-11 to 2014-15. Teacher salaries have become complex in recent years with some districts tying compensation to the health of their general fund and student enrollment. Any analysis of teacher pay needs to be done on a district-by-district basis to be accurate. The review of Ann Arbor’s salaries is part of a series Michigan Capitol Confidential has done this year.

Ezekiel’s salary in 2010-11 was $79,830 and $79,177 in 2014-15, a $653 reduction over a four-year span. And Ezekiel wasn’t alone. Many of the educators in Ann Arbor who had reached the top of the pay scale saw slight reductions, according to a review of teacher salaries.

Michigan Capitol Confidential looked at the salaries of 30 Ann Arbor teachers. Their average salary was $71,960 in 2010-11, which increased to $76,025 in 2014-15.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the average teacher salary in Ann Arbor was $71,025 in 2010-11 and $72,036 in 2014-15.

The FOIA request for the salary information did not include any additional money teachers could have earned doing extra duties, such as coaching team sports or teaching in summer school. The salaries in the FOIA were in some cases a few thousand dollars less than what the district reported to the state pension office. The state pension office factors in all compensation for pension calculations.

For example, one Ann Arbor teacher saw her salary go from $58,594 in 2010-11 to $63,702 in 2011-12, then $70,352 in 2012-13. That teacher was then paid $72,385 in 2013-14 and 2014-15. However, that teacher's salary that was reported to the state pension office was $75,605 for 2014-15, a $3,220 difference than what was reported in the FOIA.

Ezekiel and other teachers in the district have had concerns about the salaries of younger teachers in the district.

“I eat lunch with all these young moms who are new teachers. Their husbands think they’re crazy. They’re working 60-hour weeks without raises. Can’t they find a job at the same or better pay and with saner working conditions?” Ezekiel told the board.

But his comments don’t hold up when compared to the teacher salaries reported in the FOIA.

For instance, a teacher who started in 2010-11 with a bachelor’s and a salary of $39,276 earned $42,853 in 2011-12. That salary increased to $47,393 in 2012-13 and then to $48,643 in 2013-14. That amount was then frozen in 2014-15. Another teacher who also started in 2010-11 at $39,276 saw the same increases to $42,853 (2011-12) and $47,393 (2012-13). But then she saw her salary increase to $56,450 in 2013-14, where it remained for 2014-15. Although the FOIA gives no details on raises, it’s likely that this second teacher saw an increase to $56,450 due to attaining more education.

Like just about every traditional public school in the state, Ann Arbor pays its teachers based on two criteria – years of experience and the level of education attained.

That first teacher saw a 24 percent increase in salary over four years while the other teacher had a 44 percent increase.

But many veteran teachers saw slight decreases over the same period. Twelve of the 30 teachers reviewed saw their salaries decrease, although the decreases were minimal. For example, two teachers went from $83,572 in 2010-11 to $82,888 in 2014-15, a $684 reduction. Another teacher went from $72,003 in 2010-11 to $71,960 in 2014-15, a $43 reduction. The top-of-scale salary for an Ann Arbor teacher can vary from $65,616 (bachelor’s) to $85,992 (doctorate).

Ann Arbor’s enrollment was steady over the four years. The district had 16,946 students in 2010-11 and 16,901 in 2014-15.

Like just about every other district in the state, Ann Arbor has faced rising pension costs.

According to the district’s audited reports, Ann Arbor Public Schools paid $13.2 million to the state for pension costs in 2010-11. Just four years later, that payment was $31.6 million, an extra $18.4 million.

Christine Stead, the vice president of the district school board, said in an email that increased pension costs have “effectively eroded general funds for schools.”

Stead said the state has to change the way it funds schools if it wants to provide a high quality of education. See Stead’s entire statement here.

Ben DeGrow, the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, called the statewide school pension system “unsustainable.”

“Trying to cover the state’s retirement promises is taking significant resources away from attracting and rewarding quality teachers to serve students today,” DeGrow said in an email. “Some teachers will eventually reap the rewards after leaving the classroom, but the current system leaves many other teachers with the short end of a stick. The continual need to keep feeding an unsustainable pension system certainly isn’t going to help Michigan improve the weak results we’re currently getting for students.”

The Mackinac Center has proposed closing the school pension system to new employees and giving them a defined contribution 401(k)-type account. The state of Michigan took that path in 1997 when it closed its defined benefit pension system to new employees.

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.