News Story

$94K Teacher Complains Salary ‘Stagnant’ at the Top

Yet he helped negotiate his district’s fixed union pay scale

A recent Detroit Free Press column perpetuated inaccurate perceptions of how much Michigan teachers are paid, implying that salaries are stagnant with no raises in 10 years.

In a column titled “How Michigan is failing our teachers,” a teacher who was paid $94,560 in the 2015-16 school year claimed that instructors in the Birmingham school district hadn’t seen a raise in 10 years. The column also quoted the chair of the Michigan State University department of education saying teacher salaries are low and stagnant.

And yet, except for those already at the top of the union-negotiated pay scale, a vast majority of Michigan public school teachers have received pay increases in recent years, some as high as $12,000 or more last year.

Salaries in Michigan’s conventional public school districts are determined by union-negotiated contracts. Generally, as teachers gain seniority they advance in “steps” up the pay scale. After 10 to 15 years they reach the top of the scale, which in a few districts means a teacher can make more than $90,000 a year. That’s as high as they can go, except for contracts that include across-the-board increases to the entire scale, including the very top.

Birmingham Public Schools teacher Scott Craig was the teacher quoted in the Free Press column about not getting a raise for 10 years. Craig collects $94,000 a year from the district.

He has also been a member of the union negotiating team, and so would know that many of his colleagues have received significant recent salary increases.

One Birmingham teacher saw her salary go from $62,151 in 2013-14 to $66,226 in 2014-15 and $71,492 in 2015-16. Many other teachers saw comparable jumps. Yet teachers at the top of Birmingham’s pay scale have stagnant salaries.

The Birmingham district pay scale tops out between $74,190 for teachers with a bachelor’s degree to $90,282 to those teachers with a master’s degree and more.

Craig’s salary was $91,082 in 2015-16. He was able to augment this by performing extra functions that brought in another $3,448, boosting his total pay for the year to $94,530.

“Birmingham Public Schools have not offered a pay raise to teachers at the top of the pay scale for nearly 10 years,” Craig said in an email. “Our salaries are stagnate. Inflation has averaged over 2 percent for the past 10 years. So, in essence, experienced teachers are losing 2 percent of their real wages each year or close to 20 percent over 10 years.”

He continued, “This is why many senior teachers are leaving the profession and younger potential teachers are looking for other professions. Others are working second jobs, which means they are not completely focused on teaching (about 30 percent in my high school), or they are supplementing their income by coaching, teaching summer school, sponsoring club, etc. again, this means that they are not focusing their best efforts on the students in their classes. Normally, teaching is a 50-hour- plus job.”

Margaret Crocco, the chair of teacher education department at MSU, was also quoted in the column saying that teacher salaries have been stagnant in Michigan. Yet the author never mentioned the context of fixed union pay scales, and a related feature in many, that the final “step” can result in a significant pay increase.

Many teacher contracts recognize that regular raises end once a person reaches the top, so they make that last step very lucrative. For example, one teacher at the Waterford School District went from $76,080 in 2014-15, to $93,063 in 2015-16. One Bloomfield Hills teacher saw her salary go from $67,174 in 2013-14 to $73,983 in 2014-15, and $80,895 in 2015-16.

Some of these changes may have been due to another feature of public school pay scales, which is more money for accumulating more academic credentials in addition to seniority

This can all lead to seemingly perverse outcomes. For example, in many school districts, a teacher rated “ineffective” can get a healthy raise while a highly effective instructor who has “topped out” on the union pay scale gets no increase.

Crocco didn’t return an email seeking comment.