News Story

Money For Nothing: Best Teachers’ Pay Stagnates While ‘Ineffectives’ Get Raise

Perverse outcomes common as districts flout law, pay strictly on union scale

In May 2016, Kenowa Hills Public Schools employee Tracy Horodyski was selected for the prestigious award of Michigan Teacher of the Year. But Horodyski’s base pay of $70,506 that year was $215 less than what she earned two years before.

The current school year is Horodyski’s 17th as a teacher in the Grand Rapids-area school district. According to the contract negotiated between the union and the district, she won’t see another salary increase for five years.

While school administrators and teachers unions complain that teachers are underpaid, their actions across the state have led often to situations in which a district’s most highly effective teachers face reduced or stagnant wages.

For example, Grand Rapids Public Schools teacher Bobbi Jo Kenyon was teacher of the year in 2012-13. In 2015-16, she earned $69,930, just $400 more than the previous year. Kenyon’s salary increase in 2015-16 was $1,470 less than that enjoyed by another teacher — one who was rated as “ineffective” by the district. That was because Kenyon had reached the top of the union pay scale while the ineffective teacher received an automatic seniority-based raise, known as a salary step increase.

The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, published a story recently on good teachers leaving the profession that was titled “The Disappearing Educator.”

The story did not address three factors that have created stagnant pay for top educators.

First, union contracts signed by school districts do not include teacher effectiveness as a factor in setting compensation. Pay is instead based solely on the number of years on the job and the amount of college credits accumulated. And while a state law requires school districts to provide a compensation that includes significant merit pay, it is widely ignored. Finally, state records suggest that many school districts do not take teacher evaluations seriously.

In 2011, the Michigan Legislature passed reforms on teacher evaluations that came up with four categories: “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective” and “ineffective.”

Yet many school districts seldom use all four ratings. The Norway-Vulcan district in the Upper Peninsula cited in the MEA’s article is one example. For example, in the five years Norway-Vulcan has rated its teachers, all but one teacher was evaluated as either “highly effective” or “effective.”

Yet Superintendent Lou Steigerwald said low pay was one reason good teachers were leaving the district.

In the 2015-16 year, 122 public school districts in Michigan did not rate a single teacher as “highly effective” — the best of the four evaluation ratings a teacher can receive.

For example, in 2015-16, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools rated 985 of its 988 teachers as “effective.” No teachers were rated “highly effective.” Holt Public Schools rated all of its 323 teachers as “effective” that year.

On the flip side, L’Anse Creuse Public Schools rated 588 of its 590 teachers as “highly effective” in 2015-16. There were 39 school districts in Michigan that year that claimed all of their teachers were “highly effective.”

And Norway-Vulcan, like virtually every other school district in the state, has a single pay scale.

The MEA story presented some of Steigerwald’s thoughts on the issue of debt-ridden college graduates considering teaching as a career. The superintendent wondered: Why would an excellent young teacher enter a school district knowing it may be 10 years before they could earn as much as the least effective teacher in the district?

In 2013-14, Grosse Pointe Public Schools teacher Gary Abud Jr. was named the state’s teacher of the year and was paid $45,356. While two years later Abud’s salary had increased to $59,100, it was still $15,462 below the district’s average 2015-16 teacher pay.

Because those pay scales effectively determine teachers’ salaries, school districts have claimed they have no money left to provide any merit pay.

Then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a law in 2009 that requires school districts to offer some form of merit pay as part of their teacher compensation system.

Many school districts defy the state law and do not offer merit pay to their best teachers. Others offer only a token bonus of $100.

A few union contracts authorize extra money to fill positions for which there is a high demand.

The Holly Area School Districts teachers’ contract, for example, allows for a superintendent to give additional years of experience to a new teacher’s pay calculation if a position is deemed “difficult to fill.”