News Story

Pay Hikes Fewer But Still Happening At Fiscally Stressed Michigan School District

Falling enrollment and rising pension expenses mean cramped raises at Wayne-Westland

The Michigan Education Association posted a story about a longtime janitor at a Wayne County public school district who said stagnant salaries are making teachers leave the profession.

This school district may be in financial trouble, but much of what Wayne-Westland janitor Tov Pauling said in the union’s story are conflicted by actual school salary figures released by the state of Michigan.

The MEA wrote:

“What he’s observed in Wayne-Westland over the last dozen or so years has similarly played out in other school districts big and small, rural and urban, across the state. It has not been easy to witness.

“‘Before this last contract, our (support staff) employees hadn’t had a raise in about 11 years. And the young teachers were hurting ... stuck on step one for several years, they were leaving. They went into other careers, or they left for other districts that were paying more.’”

The MEA article didn’t mention that this particular school district fits the profile of ones in financial duress — falling enrollment and rising pension expenses.

The district enrolled 13,468 students in 2009-10, which fell to 10,898 students in 2018-19. That’s a 19% drop over a nine-year span.

And the annual amount the district was required to contribute to the state-run school employee pension fund rose from $9.1 million (in 2011) to $20.6 million (in 2019).

However, while some Wayne-Westland employees do appear to have plateaued in pay, state salary records show that new teachers are not “stuck on step one for years,” or the bottom of the union’s pay scale.

For example, a resource room teacher who made $34,315 in 2017-18 saw her pay increase to $42,145 in 2018-19. That’s a $7,830 increase in one year, or a 23% increase.

Another teacher who started at the Wayne-Westland district in 2017-18 made $31,662 in her first year, which increased to $39,325 in her second year.

A special education teacher who started in 2017-18 made $31,058 that year. (This teacher's pay was less than the $34,266 prescribed for a full-time position by the union contract that year.) Her pay increased to $43,353 in 2018-19.

The salaries used in this article came from the state of Michigan’s Office of Retirement Services. The figures include all types of pay public school employees receive from the school district, not including fringe benefits. That includes extra pay teachers can earn for performing extra duties ranging from coaching a sports team, teaching summer school classes, or taking on other optional duties for which the union contract prescribes specific amounts of extra pay.

According to the union contract, the starting salary at Wayne-Westland is $40,000 in 2019-20. The top of scale salary for this school year is $86,500. The average teacher salary was $57,775 in 2018-19.

This article has excluded the names of teachers whose pay is cited.

In addition to which varying due to extra responsibilities individuals choose to take on, pay rates vary widely within individual school districts based on a teacher’s academic credentials and time on the job.

Many teachers in the Wayne-Westland district had stagnant pay. In other cases, teachers who had been collecting extra pay for extra duties saw their pay drop when they stopped taking on those tasks.

An experienced biology teacher who joined the district in 2012 saw his high pay decrease by $6,300 a year after he stopped collecting extra for coaching. This teacher’s 2013-2014 pay of $89,143 fell to $82,626 in 2018-19, largely due to loss of around $6,300 in coaching income.

In many districts, including this one, pay stagnates for teachers who reach the top of the union pay scale. The current Wayne-Westland Educators Association teachers contract offers little additional pay increases for employees who have worked more than 15 years. Any larger raises must wait on a new or revised contract that includes something like an across-the-board increase.

For example, one first-grade teacher who made $77,489 in 2013-14 received $77,753 five years later.

Dov Pauling’s low janitor pay has been stagnant at about $46,000 from 2013-14 to 2018-19.

Others, such as a middle school physical education teacher, saw his pay increased from $70,300 in 2013-14 to $81,978 in 2018-19.