News Story

The Law's the Law – Except When It Says Great Teachers Get Merit Pay

School districts avoiding the law that requires them to pay better educators more

Here are two facts that seem unrelated but may not be.

First, Michigan public school administrators around the state say they face a shortage of qualified science teachers.

Second, Paula Gentile, a Belleville High School teacher, was awarded the 2016 “Teacher of Promise” designation by the Michigan Science Teachers Association.

Yet Gentile’s salary in 2015-16 was $47,065, or roughly $15,000 below the average for Michigan schoolteachers. That’s because teacher pay at the Van Buren School District, which employs her, is set by a single union-negotiated pay scale that counts only an employee’s years of service and number of academic credentials earned.

But in Michigan, highly effective teachers like Gentile are supposed to have another way to boost their compensation.

Under a state law that went in effect in 2010, a public school must "implement and maintain a method of compensation for its teachers and school administrators that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation."

But many school districts have failed to set up a system to pay their best teachers more.

Michigan Capitol Confidential surveyed several of the state’s largest school districts, using Freedom of Information Act requests to get documents describing a district’s merit pay system.

Many districts said they do not have a merit pay system — seven years after the law went into effect. The list so far includes school districts in Lansing, Waterford, Walled Lake, Utica and Traverse City. In those districts, even teachers who are recognized by outside groups, such as Paula Gentile, can expect no merit pay.

In the coming weeks, Michigan Capitol Confidential will report on the merit pay systems of specific districts.

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, said he wasn’t surprised public school districts are ignoring the law.

“That’s their standard operating procedure,” Naeyaert said. “They tend to ignore the law whenever they don’t agree with it. The penalty for breaking the law is negligible.”

Naeyaert said the state could consider withholding state funds from districts that don’t comply with the state law.

“Whatever will get their attention,” Naeyaert said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.