News Story

$71k Average Pay Has Ann Arbor Teachers ‘Contemplating Bankruptcy’

‘None of those examples are exaggerations,’ $65k, five-year teacher tells school board

Little more than a week after voters approved $1 billion in bonded debt for building improvements, Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher Alison Eberts told school board members that teachers had to make a choice: pay their bills or file for bankruptcy.

“Here’s some decisions that I and my colleagues have had to make: buying groceries or paying rent; deferring on student loans or keeping our utilities on; staying after school to be available to students or scurrying out the door to make it to work on time; paying the bills or contemplating bankruptcy,” Eberts told the school board. “None of those examples are exaggerations.”

Eberts, 29, has been employed as an Ann Arbor teacher since 2014-15. In the years since then, her annual pay has risen from a starting rate of $39,754 to $65,910 in 2018-19.

When contacted by Michigan Capitol Confidential via an email, Eberts said she had no comment. The email asked Eberts what she thought she would earn as a public school teacher back when she first took the job.

Jodi Brecht is another teacher who spoke about teacher salaries at the same meeting; Brecht earned $81,635 in 2018-19.

The average salary for Ann Arbor public school teachers was $71,545 in 2017-18, according to the Michigan Department of Education. Statewide, the average Michigan public school teacher earned a salary of $61,908 that year.

The local teachers union stated that many Ann Arbor teachers couldn’t attend the school board meeting because they had to work at second jobs.

“Let’s keep up the pressure on the Board and on the Superintendent to finally prioritize teachers in their budget so our colleagues don't have to have second and third jobs,” said a social media post from Ann Arbor Education Association..

In a Michigan Radio story, school board member Rebecca Lazarus said the solution is to ask state legislators to give public schools more money.

“This is something that is starting to swell up in districts like Ann Arbor because we cannot handle it anymore,” Lazarus said in a Nov. 1 story posted by the public radio network. “We have to pay our teachers more, and the only way school districts can do that: we have to work with our legislators to make sure they fund our schools properly.”

According to the Michigan Department of Education, Ann Arbor Public Schools is getting $678 more per pupil than it did nine years ago, even after adjusting for inflation. That figure includes all state dollars the district received.

Salaries for many educators in Ann Arbor have increased dramatically over that period.

For example:

An assistant superintendent’s total salary increased from $112,337 in 2013-14 to $133,515 in 2018-19.

A principal’s total salary went from $102,183 in 2013-14 to $122,649 in 2018-19.

Some teachers who are at the top of the union-negotiated pay scale have experienced stagnant salary growth, however.

Jeff Kass, another school employee who has been outspoken about his dissatisfaction about teacher pay, wrote a book of poetry about his experience as a teacher who also works a second job as a pizza delivery man. He has worked for the district for more than 20 years.

Kass had a total salary of $79,430 in 2013-14, which increased to $81,986 in 2018-19.

But another teacher in the district saw her total salary increase much more, from $83,012 in 2013-14 to $98,936 in 2018-19.

Salaries can vary greatly between similarly situated teachers within a district depending on what optional duties individuals are willing to take on in return for extra pay. The salary information in this story comes from the state's Office of Retirement Services.