News Story

Michigan’s Top School Pension Payouts

These retired school officials collect more than twice the average teacher’s current pay

During Barbara Fowler’s final year working as superintendent of the Troy School District in 2014, she had 42 years of experience in public schools and was earning a salary of $222,054.

Now retired, Fowler collects an annual pension of $145,140 as a member of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, or MPSERS.

Fowler’s annual pension payout is the sixth-highest currently being paid to a retired public education employee in this state.

Albert Lorenzo, a former president of Macomb Community College, is collecting the highest annual pension payout at $204,264.

Individual MPSERS pensions get a 3 percent annual cost-of-living increase every year. To illustrate the value of those increases, The Detroit News reported that former Forest Hills Public Schools Superintendent Jon Washburn was collecting $136,027 in 2011. That was then the second-highest school pension payout in the state. By 2016 Washburn’s payout had grown to $161,124, a $25,097 increase over a five-year period, making it the third highest in the state.

In comparison, the average Michigan teacher salary was $62,280 in 2016-17. A teacher who worked in the public school system for 30 years and then retired earning that statewide average salary would get an annual pension of $28,026 a year.

The annual pension payments of some past Michigan school officials rival the annual salaries paid to current top education officials. For example, James McCann collects an annual MPSERS pension of $142,728 a year. Before he retired, he was the superintendent of the Lamphere School District, which has about 2,500 students. The current Lamphere superintendent was paid $162,111 in 2017.

Iris Salters, a former Michigan Education Association president, had the fifth-highest MPSERS pension in 2016 at $147,924 a year. Salters was allowed by state law and the school district where she had worked to plug her $235,447 union salary into the state pension formula used to calculate retirement benefits. The arrangement gives her the system's fifth-highest annual payout.

The pension information comes from OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit that tracks salary and pension information for local governments around the country.

Here’s a list of the top eight MSPERS pensions as of 2016:

  • Albert Lorenzo, former president of Macomb Community College, $204,264
  • Thomas Svitkovich, former superintendent of Genesee Intermediate School District, $188,448
  • Jon Washburn, former superintendent of Forest Hills Public Schools, $161,124
  • Donald Newport, former president of Alpena Community College, $148,836
  • Iris Salters, former president of the Michigan Education Association, $147,924
  • Barbara Fowler, former superintendent of Troy Public Schools, $145,140
  • Mark Eckhardt, former superintendent of the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, $144,012
  • James McCann, former superintendent of the Lamphere School District, $142,728