(Editor's note: A version of this article appeared in the May 18, 2010, Port Huron Times Herald.)

An ongoing ad campaign from the Michigan Education Association claims that "politicians love to treat school employees like punching bags" and ignore the sacrifices of school employees whose "salaries and benefits continue to be cut." In the Port Huron Area School District, about  70 percent of the $106 million operating budget goes towards paying employees covered by current collective bargaining agreements for teachers and a few other employee groups. Yet few people know what is in these or other school labor contracts.

Teacher salaries in the district are determined by a single salary schedule that grants automatic pay raises based solely on an employee's years on the job plus additional pedagogy credentials. New teachers who meet minimal performance standards are granted "tenure" after four years on the job, which is almost a lifetime job guarantee regardless of effectiveness. Tenured teachers are evaluated once every three years, but neither these evaluations nor the performance of their students affect how much they are paid.

Port Huron teachers get automatic annual pay raises ranging from 3 to 10 percent as they progress through the time-on-the-job "steps" of the salary schedule. All teachers, regardless of their position on the step schedule, receive a 2 percent annual pay increase as the entire salary schedule grows by that amount. The vast majority of teachers in Port Huron receive a base salary between $57,579 and $71,972; the average amount was $66,604 in 2009.

In addition, the district pays $13,961 annually for teacher health insurance plans, regardless of whether the plan is single, two-person or family. Teachers do not contribute anything to the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Comparatively, the statewide average cost in the private sector for an employer-provided family plan is $11,300, with the employee picking up 22 percent of that amount. The district also provides life, vision and dental insurance at no cost to employees.

School employees are provided a lifetime pension when they retire, and also expect to receive lifetime post-retirement health benefits. Based on the state-run retirement system's formula, the lifetime pension for a Port Huron teacher with 30 years of experience and an average base salary of $71,972 (the final "step" on the salary schedule) would be $32,387. For most retirees, this amount increases by 3 percent every year. An employee may begin collecting a pension upon reaching age 55, or younger if he or she has 30 years of employment in public schools.

Teachers are allotted an average of 13.5 leave days per year and may accumulate 240 of these. Leave days may be used for personal and family illness, funerals, graduations, household emergencies and routine medical attention. Days off are also granted for conferences and workshops, and these do not count against a teacher's allotted leave days. In addition, the district pays for travel expenses for these events.

Other leave time opportunities are available. The union president is a school employee who is exempted from all teaching duties in order to conduct union business, essentially getting paid as a teacher but not teaching. Certain employees may take a year-long sabbatical and receive half of their salary and benefits during that time. Teachers are allowed a full year of unpaid leave for "advanced study" and "educational travel time," and may request a leave for other personal uses. After a leave of absence, teachers are automatically reassigned to their previous position.

The union contract also covers working conditions, including teaching loads and maximum class sizes. For example, high school teachers cannot be required to teach more than the equivalent of five classes per day, and elementary teachers must have 45 minutes of preparation time per day. Class sizes (except in a few special classes) may not exceed 30 at the elementary level, 31 in middle school and 32 in high school. The contract also prohibits the pupil-to-teacher ratio from exceeding 21.6 to 1.

The union contract also includes bonus pay for additional duties. Teachers are paid $32.47 per hour when participating in school dances, music events, athletic contests, summer and evening school and drivers training. This same rate applies for any substitute teaching they may perform. Finally, teachers can earn extra cash by coaching or participating in other extracurricular activities, such as band, drama, yearbook, intramurals, student clubs and many others. There are more than 100 different extracurricular positions that pay teachers between $533 and $8,066 annually.

A fully detailed analysis can be found here.

The Michigan Education Association says members may leave only in the month of August. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has set up www.AugustOptOut.org to help inform MEA members of their rights.


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