News Story

Teacher of the Year Not Rewarded By Contract Her Union Helped Negotiate

AFT local worked against compensating instructors based on job performance

The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan congratulated Julie Martinez as the Oakland County Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year for 2022.

Ironically, Lamphere Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1614, where Martinez is now vice president, played a role in minimizing the compensation received by the best teachers in the district. The union negotiated a contract that doesn’t recognize excellence in teaching.

Martinez has been a teacher for 23 years. She is at the top of her district’s salary scale, an artificial salary ceiling negotiated by the union and present in almost every school district in Michigan. The teacher of the year, then, cannot be paid more for receiving her award. Instead, the contract she works under calls for a 1% salary increase in 2021-22 for being top of the salary scale. A negotiated salary step, available for someone not at the top, could have been as high as 3.5%.

In 2013-14, Martinez’s gross pay was $81,279. By 2020-21, her gross pay had increased to $87,505.

Martinez’s gross pay of $87,505 was above the average teacher salary in Michigan ($64,237 in 2020-21). And it was higher than the median household income of $54,668 in Madison Heights, the city where she teaches.

Her salary increase didn’t keep up with inflation, though. That 2013-14 gross pay equates to $90,892 in 2021 dollars. And Martinez made more money in 2016-17 when she had a gross pay of $87,692. Martinez did not receive a pay cut. Instead, teachers have many opportunities to earn extra money in their contracts by taking on extra duties. Taking on those duties in one year but not the next would result in less income.

The union contract only allows for teachers to move up on the salary scale if they have been rated in the top two of four categories used for teacher evaluations. The top two categories are “highly effective” and “effective.” Any teacher rated in the bottom two categories of "minimally effective” and “ineffective” does not get automatic pay increases the next year.

The real-world implications of having different categories can be minimal. For example, Lamphere Public Schools evaluated 201 teachers in 2020-21. Only one was failed to receive a rating of either highly effective or effective. All teachers but one moved up on the salary scale, meaning there was no recognition of teacher excellence within the contract. That’s common in many districts in Michigan. Teachers in Lamphere Public Schools move up on the salary scale based on two criteria — longevity and their number of higher education credits.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated. Martinez is currently serving as vice president of the union local, but she did not participate in the contract negotiation. 

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.