News Story

Teachers’ Pay Didn’t Fall, But Great Recession Did Drive ‘Reduction In The Rate Of Increase’

East Lansing illustrates one way this happened

East Lansing Public Schools recently made news when it handed out bonuses of as much as $1,000 to teachers and other employees.

An article in the Lansing State Journal quoted an anonymous employee who said that in 39 years, teachers had not received bonuses. Tim Akers, the president of the local teachers union, said he didn’t think bonuses had ever been given.

The East Lansing Education Association also recently stated on its Facebook page that starting salaries for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree have not risen at all since 2009:

“Ten Year Challenge: East Lansing Teacher Salary, BA Step 1

2009: $37,965
2019: $38,826

“If the salary schedule had kept up with the rate of inflation, BA Step 1 in 2019 would be $45,479. This, of course, doesn't include the rapidly rising rate of health insurance premiums.

“Just something to keep in mind ....”

These figures are correct. For a broader look, the average teacher’s salary in East Lansing was $61,453 in 2009. In 2017-18, the average salary was almost identical, at $61,389, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Changes in a school district’s average teacher salary can reflect changes in its workforce. When high-seniority, high-pay teachers retire, their replacements are usually younger teachers starting to move up the union pay scale. Even so, after adjusting for inflation, the starting and average pay of East Lansing teachers is down significantly.

The picture holds for a teacher with 10 years of seniority. In 2009, that person could make as much as $64,036, depending on credentials. In the 2019-20 school year, the inflation-adjusted pay of a comparable 10-year teacher is $65,815, which did not keep up with inflation. Only teachers at the high end of the pay scale are ahead of their 2009 peers. The highest base salary for an East Lansing teacher was $74,224 in 2009. In 2017-18, the highest pay rate in the district’s union contract was $84,557.

These figures show how the K-12 funding landscape has changed in Michigan since 2009. Overall public school funding (from state and federal sources) was reduced in 2007-08 and cut again in 2009-10. It was cut a third time in 2011-12, as the nation reeled from the Great Recession, which in Michigan came on top of a period known as the "single state recession."

But school districts were slow to adapt, and they were also locked into union contracts that typically run three years. The resulting stresses drove the number of public school districts spending more than they took in for the year (in deficit) to a record high 55 in 2013. Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan warned in 2013 that if the pattern held, the number could reach more than 100 “very soon.”

The trend did not continue, though; school districts adapted. Driven by declining property values and stagnant property tax collections, school districts negotiated more fiscally prudent pay schedules for teachers. By 2018, just 17 public schools had overspent themselves into a deficit situation, and the Michigan Department of Education was projecting that the number would drop to 13 by 2019.

At East Lansing schools, overall payrolls were reduced. That did not happen with pay cuts for individuals, but with starting pay rates that did not keep up with inflation, and smaller seniority increases. For example, a fourth-year teacher made a base salary of $42,452 in 2006-07 and that same teacher in their fifth year made $48,457 in 2008-09, a 14.1% increase over two years.

In 2006-07, fifth-year teachers were paid $44,575. The next year, a fifth-year teacher made $45,355. By 2011, the fifth-year teacher pay rate had risen to just $47,078. That was a $2,503 increase over that 2006-07 fifth-year teacher.  But the pay level for fifth-year teachers did not keep up with inflation. Those fifth-year teachers had still received regular pay hikes, but these came after starting at a comparatively lower level.

What these figures do not include and what is not reported by the union is that teachers can make substantially more by taking advantage of numerous opportunities to earn extra pay for performing duties not required by their union contract. This was also the case in 2009.

Many East Lansing teachers are taking advantage of this, including the president of the teachers union.

Here’s a “five-year challenge” that looks at the actual total salaries of some teachers from 2013-14 through 2018-19.

Akers, the ELEA president and an English teacher, saw his gross salary rise from $64,845 in 2013-14 to $81,875 in 2018-19. He added to his base pay by coaching sports teams for the district, a responsibility which can pay as much as an extra $9,300 a year.

Importantly, the extra pay also goes into the formula used for calculating each teacher’s pension benefits after retirement, making it even more valuable. Two years ago, the state of Michigan stopped providing breakdowns of all the extra income teachers make, so only some specific rates can be reported.

An East Lansing special education teacher saw her salary increase from $78,290 in 2013-14 to $94,646 in 2018-19.

An applied technology teacher’s salary rose from $92,122 in 2013-14 to $94,033 in 2018-19. That teacher made $22,000 for taking on extra duties in 2013-14, including a coaching sports teams that paid $15,900.

A first-grade teacher had her salary increase from $76,422 to $91,905 in that five-year span.

A second grade teacher who started in 2016-17 made $32,952 that year (and likely arrived after the school was underway). Within two years, this person’s pay was was up to $48,888 (for 2018-19.)

Individual teacher increases of that magnitude generally have two explanations: the teacher either obtained additional education school credits (which is rewarded on the union pay scale) or they took on optional additional duties that lead to more income.

For example, here are some of the amounts stipulated by the union contract for specific additional duties teachers may choose to perform:

The curriculum chairperson gives input to the board of education on curriculum. This can pay as much as $3,300 per year.

A teacher who chooses to work summer school can earn as much as $45 an hour. That hourly rate would translate into a $93,600 annual salary if earned on a 40-hour, 52-week-a-year basis.

In addition to $45 for each hour they work, teachers also get paid as much as an extra $11.25 an hour for “prep time” for every hour they work.

East Lansing teachers can also make up to $500 extra per semester if class sizes exceed a cap specified in the contract.

Head coaches of sports can make as much as $9,300 extra, and assistant coaches $5,400. Intramural coaches can make as much an additional $6,200.