News Story

A Tale Of Two Teachers' Pay: $96,000 vs. $50,000

In Detroit newspaper column both say pay is uncompetitive

Two public school teachers recently coauthored a Detroit News op-ed calling for more money for their school districts and higher pay for educators. Fraser Public Schools elementary teacher Jarod McGuffey and Farmington Public Schools high school teacher Kathryn Gustafson claimed in the piece that public schools are underfunded and teacher “compensation packages and salaries are no longer competitive.”

A review of each teacher’s particular pay history offers insights into their claims.

Gustafson began working at Farmington Public Schools in 1996. During her time there, she has been recognized several times as a teacher of the year. Like most experienced teachers, Gustafson has reached the top of her district’s union-negotiated pay scale. Salaries top out in an employee’s 15th year in Farmington, landing in a range of $83,729 to $100,172, depending on the number of academic credentials an individual has accrued.

Though Gustafson was recognized as an outstanding teacher, her base salary would not have increased over the past three years, due to the district’s union contract.

Teachers who have topped out on the union pay scale can only look for higher pay when the district contract they work under expires and is replaced by a new one, which might include an across-the-board increase.

In 2007, for example, a Farmington teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience would have been collecting the top-of-the-scale pay of $83,417. A dozen years later, at least one new contract had been negotiated, along with a number of contract modifications. Those changes meant that in 2019, this topped-out teacher, now with 22 years of experience, was collecting $97,497 a year.

Gustafson’s total salary has increased from $90,903 in 2013-14 to $96,424 in 2017-18, income that includes extra money for taking on additional responsibilities. The average teacher salary in Michigan was $61,908 in 2017-18. The average salary for a Farmington teacher that year was $77,582.

During her tenure, Gustafson would have experienced Michigan’s Lost Decade of the 2000s and the nation’s Great Recession of 2007-2009. In that time, the entire state, including school districts, experienced severe economic stress. In both 2008-09 and 2009-10, state funding for K-12 schools declined, and districts have undergone a difficult recovery from those hard times.

In 1999-2000, Farmington Public Schools received $8,367 in per-pupil funding from the state, after adjusting for inflation. (That year is the earliest one for which online records are available.) In 2018-19, it received $8,144 per pupil. So, it received about $223 less in per-pupil funding than 19 years earlier in real terms, even as state funding for K-12 schools has increased every year since 2011-12. These figures are for state funding only and do not include additional money schools get from the federal government.

This experience has had an impact on the pay prospects of school employees, which may be a factor in the six-year pay history of Gustafson’s co-author, Fraser Public Schools teacher Jarod McGuffey.

McGuffey spent several years in the private sector before becoming a teacher at Fraser Public Schools in January 2013. During his first full year as a teacher, in 2013-14, he earned $45,502. After four years on the job, his pay had risen to $50,818. Those figures include extra money earned for performing additional duties, which still leaves his pay $11,090 below the statewide average of $61,908 for public school teachers. The average salary at Fraser Public Schools is $66,105.

In 2012-13 Fraser Public Schools received per-pupil state funding equal to $8,347 when adjusted for inflation. That increased to $9,132 per pupil in 2018-19, or $785 per pupil more than six years earlier when adjusted for inflation.