Teacher Pay Data Part of Public Discussion Of School Finance

Here’s why we request data on teacher pay

For the last four years, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has submitted an open records request to the Michigan Office of Retirement Services (ORS) for the salaries of public school teachers, principals and administrators.

This year, ORS sent out an email alerting thousands of teachers about that Freedom of Information Act request. That triggered a response from many teachers who contacted the Mackinac Center with their concerns.

One teacher from a suburban Detroit school district sent an email making these statements:

“My wife and I both work as teachers and have for 27 years.”

“Every year of our lives we have worked paycheck to paycheck.”

“We knew teaching wouldn’t make us rich, but this is not what we signed up for.”

“Excuse me - I have to go do my second job now so that I can pay my mortgage.”

That teacher made more than $91,000 in 2016-17. His wife made more than $95,000. Michigan Capitol Confidential is not publishing the name of the teachers.

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That email exchange highlights the importance of educating the public in the ongoing debate about school funding in Michigan. “Instructional expenditures,” which includes teacher pay, account for about 60 percent of a typical public school’s operating expenses.

Salary information also gives important context to stories that could be misleading if it’s absent.

In June 2017, the Ann Arbor News published a story titled, “Ann Arbor teacher says pay so low he has to deliver pizzas.”

Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher Jeff Kass showed up at a school board meeting to complain about his salary wearing a Cottage Inn Pizza uniform he wears for a second job. The Ann Arbor News did not report his teacher's salary. It was $81,240 in 2016-17.

On Feb. 10, Michigan Capitol Confidential published a story about many teachers in Flint Community Schools suffering salary reductions due to the district’s plummeting enrollment. That story was based on salary information obtained from an open records request to the state as well as OpenTheBooks.com. The nonprofit has posted public salary data of nearly every government worker in Michigan and other states for years, allowing for a direct year-over-year comparison of pay and giving citizens the ability to see what cities are paying for services.

Teacher salary information is also important because the mainstream media have historically not challenged compensation assertions made by teachers, union administrators or academic experts.

For example, the Oakland Press ran a story in 2015 written by Rochester Community Schools teacher Julia Satterthwaite. The story carried the title “Oakland County teachers work second jobs to make ends meet.” Satterthwaite was working at the newspaper as an intern.

The article mentioned a 37-year-old Rochester teacher who worked a second job. The story failed to mention that the teacher earned $88,980 that year.

Michigan Capitol Confidential’s policy has been to not identify teachers when reporting on their salaries unless they are in the news or make public mention of teacher compensation.

Caleb Buhs, director of communications for the state's Department of Technology, Management and Budget, said they started notifying state employees in March of 2017 whenever they release personal information such as salaries.

"This is done for any request that releases this type of information, regardless of the requestor," Buhs said in an email.

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