News Story

Best Teachers Take Pay Cut In This Big Michigan School District

High performance, student gains not reflected in paychecks at Warren

Warren Consolidated Area Schools' teacher Karin Jaberoo. Photo via Warren Consolidated Area Schools.

Last year, Warren Consolidated Area Schools teachers Scot Acre and Jessica Wendt were given the district’s Teacher of the Year awards. Acre teaches math and Wendt teaches science, two subject areas in demand across the state.

Despite being recognized as the best teachers in the district, the two took pay cuts in 2015-16, according to a state of Michigan database of teacher salaries. Acre’s salary went from $75,807 in 2014-15 to $74,894 the next year. Wendt’s salary dropped from $73,902 in 2014-15 to $73,227 in 2015-16.

The district does not have a merit pay system to reward it best teachers. In fact, it doesn’t even recognize its top teachers in the annual evaluations done for every teacher by the district’s administrators.

The district rated just one teacher as “highly effective” in 2015-16, while the rest of the 799 teachers were rated as “effective.”

That’s a common practice throughout the state. The state’s best teachers find themselves trapped in union-negotiated pay scales that only recognize years of service and amount of college credits earned. In addition, few districts take evaluations seriously.

Warren Consolidated Schools Superintendent Richard Livernois didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Warren Consolidated Schools, one of the largest districts in the state with its 14,410 students, does not offer its most effective teachers financial compensation — despite a seven-year-old merit pay law.

A Freedom of Information Act request found that the metro Detroit district uses teacher merit to determine continued employment but does not offer financial compensation for good performance.

“An educator’s overall effectiveness, i.e., merit, has been the determining factor in deciding which educators are retained by the District,” said a letter from the district to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “While the District has used its evaluation system in this way for a number of years, it has lacked the financial resources to provide additional compensation to educators based on merit.”

Warren Consolidated Schools said it intends to offer merit pay – which it must do under state law — once it has the means to do so.

“The District intends to expand this program once it is in a more sustainable financial position,” Warren Consolidated said.

In 2010, a state law requiring school districts give successful teachers bonuses was signed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The law says, in part, that public schools must “implement and maintain a method of compensation for its teachers and school administrators that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation.”

The district’s public relations office did not respond to a request for comment.

Warren Consolidated rates teachers as “ineffective,” “minimally effective,” “effective,” or “highly effective.” The district makes layoffs based on teachers’ effectiveness ratings, with “ineffective” teachers being laid off first.

“The District only retains, and therefore compensates, those teachers and administrators who are determined to be effective educators,” the letter stated.

Warren Consolidated is just one of dozens of public school districts not in compliance with the 2010 law. Large school districts that do not have merit pay systems include the following: Lansing, Waterford, Walled Lake, Utica, Traverse City, Farmington, L’Anse Creuse, Warren, Grand Rapids, Livonia, Plymouth-Canton, and Rochester. Other districts, like Ann Arbor, Troy, Wayne-Westland, and Dearborn, offer minimal compensation to effective teachers. Only Kalamazoo and Detroit have compensation practices that clearly meet state law.

This is part of a series of stories looking at merit pay systems in several of the state’s largest school districts.