News Story

How The Union Contract And Bogus Merit Pay Hurt Teacher Of The Year Finalist

She gets $48,809, which is less than the average teacher pay in the district

Lake Linden-Hubbell school district teacher Heather French is a finalist for Michigan teacher of the year.

Yet the gross pay of $48,809 French received in 2019-20 was below the district’s average teacher salary of $51,423.

The U.P. teacher is a good example of how the unionization of Michigan’s public school districts hurts the state’s exceptional teachers. Many proponents of sending more tax dollars into public schools have pointed to compensation as a reason so many teachers leave the field.

Like almost all Michigan public school districts, Lake Linden-Hubbell does not take a statutory merit pay requirement seriously, and it appears to violate state law over its merit-pay policies.

The collective bargaining labor agreement the district signed with the local Michigan Education Association teachers union makes no distinction in how it treats the best and the worst teachers. The contract sets teachers’ pay based on two criteria: years of experience and number of college credits. That’s how virtually every teacher in Michigan’s unionized public school districts is paid.

Although the union contract does not recognize a teacher’s exceptional ability in the form of higher regular pay, the school district could make up for this by offering merit pay bonuses. But Lake Linden-Hubbell offers no meaningful merit pay system.

The district appears to offer a system, but a closer look suggests it’s essentially a method to give raises to nearly all teachers, without regard to merit. Under the union contract, teachers who are rated by the district as “effective” or “highly effective” in state-required year-end assessments are advanced one level or “step” of seniority on the pay scale, which brings a raise. The catch is, only one teacher since 2013-14 has not been given a “effective” or “highly effective” rating by the Lake Linden-Hubbell district.

The district had 39 teachers in 2020-21.

Merit pay is required by Michigan law. This state adopted a statute establishing that each school district “shall implement and maintain a method of compensation . . . that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation.” The law lets individual districts determine how to do it.

Neither French nor Lake Linden-Hubbell Schools Superintendent Brad Codere responded to emails 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.