News Story

Union Negotiates Pay Cap, Highlights Capped Teacher’s Complaints

Imposing assembly line pay systems on skilled professionals has its price

In a recent website feature, the Michigan Education Association highlighted a public school teacher who was complaining about her salary. Maureen Horan, a teacher at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, said she is not making what she earned 10 years ago, because she has to contribute more to her pension and health insurance benefits.

The article in the MEA Voice did not mention that Horan’s pay was $76,746 in 2017-18. The average teacher salary at Walled Lake — $81,168 — is the highest of any school district in the state.

With 21 years of service, Horan has reached the top of the seniority-based union pay scale, a roadblock that is faced by all long-time Michigan school district teachers.

And in this instance, as in almost all other Michigan school districts that have the same system, it was the MEA that negotiated a contract that freezes the pay of the most experienced teachers. Teachers get automatic pay increases — step increases — at intervals specified in the district’s union contract, but only until they get to the top of the pay scale. Then the step increases cease.

These contracts set teacher pay almost exclusively on seniority and the number of accrued academic credentials. Throughout Michigan, the state’s most experienced teachers are not eligible for step increases, though they may receive bonuses. At Walled Lake, a teacher arrives at the top of the pay scale after 15 years. Nearby Farmington Public Schools also caps pay steps after 15 years.

“The union’s negotiations with a district sets the terms of the pay scale for all teachers, regardless of what skills and advantages an individual teacher brings to the table,” said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “It’s an effect of the union’s own negotiation that not only ties most of a teacher’s salary to seniority but also caps the number of years they can continue receiving the automatic increases.”

At Kenowa Hills Public Schools in Kent County, Tracy Horodyski had a total salary of $71,490 in 2015-16. Horodyski was named the Michigan Teacher of the Year in the 2016-17 school year. In the next school year, her salary was $72,786, less than 2 percent more. It is likely that her income went up because she was paid more for taking on extra duties like teaching summer school, a common feature of union contracts.

But her increased income did not come from her superior performance or increased seniority. When Horodyski was named Teacher of the Year, she had 16 years of experience. The union contract stated that teachers in years 16-21 were not eligible for a step increase. So despite being recognized as the best in her profession, the salary schedule did not allow Horodyski a salary increase for five years.

The MEA didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.