Analysis

No Such Thing As An Average Teacher Salary In Michigan

One teacher saw a $19,166 increase over three years; another, $435 over seven

At the Troy City School District, a teacher who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 started on the job with a salary of $36,071 in the 2014-15 school year and was making $55,237 by 2017-18, a $19,166 increase in just three years. Another Troy teacher who was getting a gross salary of $42,958 in 2011-12 saw it rise to $64,822 in 2017-18, a $21,864 increase over seven years.

About 32 miles south of Troy at River Rouge Public Schools, a teacher with 30 years of experience had a gross salary of $76,879 in 2010-11. That amount increased to $77,314 in 2017-18, just a $435 increase over a seven-year span, less than 1%.

There is a history and rationale behind each of these and countless other seeming inconsistencies in teacher pay. Every one of them has been negotiated and specified in collective bargaining agreements that more than 500 conventional Michigan school districts and their teacher union locals have agreed to over the decades. Painting a true picture of shifting Michigan teacher pay patterns, then, is not a simple task.

So while the media focused on a statement, in a recently released Citizens Research Council of Michigan study, that average teacher pay here appeared stagnant, the examples above show how complex teacher compensation can be in Michigan.

There is no such thing as an average salary for a Michigan public school teacher that accurately covers the income experiences of the 97,000-plus educators in this state.

Compensation of a teacher depends on a constantly shifting mix of factors beyond individual teacher seniority and credentials. They include different school districts’ per-pupil funding levels, the local cost of living, enrollment trends, federal aid, union contracts and more. The average pay in a single district may rapidly fall if a large number of older teachers at the top of pay scale retire and are replaced by younger ones who are still climbing it but may be getting substantial pay hikes each year.

The average teacher salary in Michigan in 2017-18 was $61,908, according to the Michigan Department of Education. In 2011-12, the average teacher salary was $62,613. But it would be inaccurate to state that teachers working in 2017-18 were the same ones who were working in 2011-12, or that their pay had had stagnated or fallen. Some had stagnated: those whose seniority meant they had reached the top of the union-negotiated pay scale. These teachers only benefit from periodic across-the-board raises.

A few teachers at financially troubled school districts may have experienced pay cuts. But the vast majority of teachers with approximately 10 years or less of seniority (depending on the district) experienced periods of rapid annual raises, like the teacher in the first example above.

The information on salaries in this story comes from Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the state of Michigan and specific school districts. The individual teacher salaries include extra pay for optional duties. An example would be teaching summer school.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has published more than 100 stories on teacher salaries over the past decade, correcting many inaccurate statements made by union officials, teachers and administrators about teacher compensation.

With teacher compensation a prominent subject in current debates on education funding, Michigan Capitol Confidential will be posting a series of reports on how much teachers are paid in this state. It will look at why some teachers see $19,166 pay hikes over three years while others may be getting just $435 more than they were seven years earlier.