Extra Caution Needed On 'Average' Teacher Salary Claims

It's easy to paint a false picture of decline even when everyone's getting raises

The statewide news site MLive has begun writing about and posting databases of teacher salaries for readers to view.

The items have focused on average salaries.

“The average salary for Michigan public school teachers dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 2015-16,” one article read.

To illustrate this assertion, MLive noted that at Jenison Public Schools, the average teacher salary for 2015-16 was down 13 percent from 2010-11.

ForTheRecord says: A typical reader seeing this might assume that “average salaries down” means that individual teachers are taking pay cuts.

That is hardly ever the case, however. Almost always, “average salaries down” means that a number of high-seniority, high-paid veterans have retired and been replaced by lower-cost new or low-seniority teachers.

Teachers in Michigan public schools are paid strictly on the basis of seniority and number of college credits acquired. So when a teacher retires, an $85,000-a-year salary can be taken off the books and replaced with a starting salary of (in the case of Jenison) $37,583.

Overall, the state database shows that Jenison teachers did quite well in 2015-16, with raises that ranged from 3.9 percent to as high as 9.0 percent. The highest paid Jenison teachers made $84,892 last year, in a community whose median household income between 2011-2015 was reported to be $56,725 according to the U.S. Census.