Union Rules: Ineffective Teacher's Raise is 4x That of 'Teacher Of The Year'

Recent top educator got a $400 bump, colleague rated 'ineffective' got $1,836

Grand Rapids Public Schools teacher Bobbi Jo Kenyon won the prestigious Michigan Department of Education Teacher of the Year award in 2012-13. In 2015-16, Kenyon earned $69,930, which was $400 more than she earned the previous year.

But Kenyon also was paid $1,470 less in 2015-16 than a teacher who was rated by the same district as “ineffective,” the lowest of four state-prescribed ratings used in Michigan teacher evaluations.

The ineffective teacher, whose name is being withheld, received a $1,836 salary increase in the year he received the lowest rating. His pay hike was more than four times the one given to the recent state teacher of the year.

Grand Rapids Public Schools is just one of more than 500 conventional school districts in the state where, every year, similar misaligned incentives and rewards play out. It happens because conventional school districts pay their teachers based on a union-negotiated contract that looks at just two factors: years of service and number of college credits accrued.

Sharron Pitts, assistant superintendent of human resources and general counsel for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said the difference in pay between the two teachers was based on academic credentials.

“These pay schedules were pursuant to union-negotiated contracts,” Pitts said in an email.

Both Kenyon and the ineffective teacher left the Grand Rapids district after the 2015-16 school year.

Kenyon said she left after working 20 years for the school district. She said in an email she wanted to travel across the country in a motor home.

“I am also taking this time to work on my dissertation as I have been working toward my doctorate,” Kenyon said. “After I earn my doctorate, which will be around a year and a half more, I would like to teach at a college. It is my hope to teach students coming into the teaching profession. I feel I have a wealth of knowledge, especially after working so long in a tough inner-city school, to share. I already miss teaching immensely, but this is an exciting break!”

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High-performance teachers across the state seldom see rewards for excellence show up in their paychecks, despite a law that requires districts to give merit pay a significant role. But with as much as 99 percent of teacher compensation determined by the union scale, there’s little left for rewarding teachers whose students advance faster than their peers in other classrooms.

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