News Story

Teacher, Poet, Pizza Guy — At $82k, Says Side Job Needed To Pay Bills

But also said his pay is ‘by no means terrible’ at the Ann Arbor school district

In 2017, Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher Jeff Kass made news when he complained about his $82,000-plus salary at a school board meeting while wearing a work uniform for the pizza restaurant where he worked a second job.

Two years later, Kass is back in the news for the publication of a book of poems he wrote during the 2016-17 school year, “Teacher/Pizza Guy.” The book went on sale Aug. 26 at a price of $16.14.

Wayne State University Press, the publisher of the book, stated, “The timing of this book is beyond relevant. As a public high school teacher in America, Kass’s situation is not uncommon. In September 2018, Time published an article detailing how many public school teachers across the country and in a variety of environments work multiple jobs to help make ends meet.”

The Amazon summary of the book states, “‘Teacher/Pizza Guy’ is a collection of autobiographical poems from the 2016-17 school year in which Jeff Kass worked as a full-time English teacher and a part-time director for a literary arts organization and still had to supplement his income by delivering pizzas a few nights a week. In the collection, Kass is unapologetically political without distracting from the poems themselves but rather adds layers and nuances to the fight for the middle class and for educators as a profession.”

Over the past five years Kass’ pay has been fairly stagnant, with annual amounts of $82,418; $83,155; $81,155; $81,240; and $82,131. He earned those amounts over the school years from 2013-14 to 2017-18 school year.

Kass earned slightly different amounts each of those years, and one reason is that it’s likely he accepted extra pay for accepting duties outside the contract requirements. His base salary was $79,177 in 2015-16, but extra duty stipends raised his final pay to $81,155 then. The average salary for a public school teacher in Michigan was $61,908 in 2017-18.

The main reason Kass’ base salary has been relatively stagnant is that he has reached the top of the union pay scale that is negotiated between the district and the Ann Arbor Teachers Association. The 2015-16 pay scale topped out at a base salary of $79,969 for a teacher with 10 years of seniority and two master’s degrees (the credentials Kass had as a teacher). Three years later, in 2018-19, the pay ceiling for the same credentials had risen to $81,351, an increase of 1.7%.

In his poetry, Kass laments that getting no tip on one pizza delivery “equals late fee for my next unpaid property tax.” He talks about having “negative seventy-six dollars in my bank account.”

In 2017 Kass responded to an email from Michigan Capitol Confidential, stating that he had 20 years of experience teaching and held two master’s degrees. Kass questioned how his salary would compare to any worker in any field with two master’s degrees.

“If you really want to know, my take-home pay from AAPS is a little more than $4,000 a month [$4,226 per month per school district documents] in 2017,” Kass said in the 2017 email. “That’s by no means terrible, but it does necessitate additional income in order for my family to pay its bills.”

Kass’ take-home pay was reduced by his contributions to a 403(b) retirement savings account. In the email, he also pointed out that he has to contribute to the cost of his health insurance, and contribute to the state-run system that will provide his traditional pension and post-retirement health insurance benefits.

According to the school district’s financial records, for the two-week period covered by Kass’ 2017 remarks, Ann Arbor Public Schools contributed $1,388 to the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System on his behalf. Kass himself had to pay $265 toward his pension benefits. Based on those payments, if Kass retires this year, he will receive an estimated pension of $28,290 a year, with a 3% annual increase. He will also get essentially the same health insurance state employees get, with a 20% copay, which will also cover part of his Medicare costs at 65.

Kass paid $45.85 toward the cost of his regular Paid Provider Organization health insurance during that two-week pay period, while the school district’s share of the cost was $758.

The Ann Arbor teacher also paid $114 during the two-week pay period to fund his post-retirement health insurance.