News Story

Another Pension ‘Spike’ For Outgoing Teachers Union President

$4k added to the $92,000 annual lifetime boost he previously orchestrated

When Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook retired this year, the state’s largest teachers union gave him a $23,000 raise, which had the effect of boosting the government pension he is now collecting.

Cook’s public school pension had already been boosted through a pension-spiking scheme that has benefited all top executives of the MEA, including the last three presidents of the union.

The state-run school pension system bases an employee’s monthly retirement benefit on the salary earned during that person’s final three years on the job. Special deals made for Cook and the other MEA officials years earlier allow them to substitute their six-figure union salaries for the much smaller amounts they earned when actually working in schools.

In Cook's case, this means he’s already getting a lifetime government pension worth $92,443 more each year than if he had remained in the classroom. This amount will now be even higher thanks to the parting pay bump from the union.

As an actual school district employee 25 years earlier, Cook was a part-time paraprofessional earning a fraction of the amount he was later paid by the union.

The MEA just released an annual LM-2 report it must file with the U.S. Labor Department for the 2016-17 period. That showed Cook’s annual salary increasing from $212,649 in 2016 to $235,771 in 2017, an 11 percent raise.

The raise came despite the MEA suffering numerous legislative and policy defeats during Cook’s six-year reign.

Based on calculations done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, that raise in the final year boosted his pension by $4,624 a year.

Cook’s full pension is estimated at $131,962 a year, according to a Mackinac Center for Public Policy calculation. The actual amount paid each month can vary based on different options an employee can choose, such as providing survivor benefits. Cook's actual annual pension he began receiving in September when he retired was $103,227, according to the state retirement system.

Cook worked 15 years as a classroom assistant at the Lansing School District. Thanks to a special arrangement he made with the district when he began working full time for the union, he was allowed to accrue years of service with state pension system. Cook then worked 25 years for the union.

The MEA reimbursed the school district for its contributions to the pension system on behalf of Cook. But due to persistent underfunding of the system by state officials, it’s likely that taxpayers will still be on the hook for some of Cook’s benefits.

The MEA didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

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.