Portage Northern High School teacher Dave Laing told the Kalamazoo Gazette recently that he feels teachers are being unfairly portrayed as greedy and overpaid. According to the article, he is a union negotiator for the Portage Education Association. The “Dave Laing” on the Portage Northern staff website is listed as teaching physical education classes.

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From the article:

He referenced his daughter, a college student majoring in chemical engineering. “When my daughter graduates college, she’ll probably start out making more than I’m making at the end of my career,” said Laing, who has been teaching for 24 years.

How likely is it that Laing’s claim will happen?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2011 spring salary survey, a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering translates to an average salary offer of $66,886. It also happens that Laing’s daughter has selected the highest-compensated major for new graduates on the entire NACE list, meaning that her father is comparing himself to what may be the nation’s absolute most valuable and highest-compensated bachelor’s degree. Even “Business Systems Networking/Telecommunications” — still the tenth highest-compensated major on the NACE ranking — lists bachelor’s degree job offers with average starting salaries of $10,000 less than the chemical engineers.

A teacher with a bachelor’s degree only would need to have 25 years of service to make $68,230 in the Portage district. However, if the teacher had a master’s degree and 14 years with the district, that teacher would make $69,274 this year. If that teacher holds a master’s degree plus credits, the teacher would make $67,371 in the 12th year.

According to the state, 41 percent of the teachers in the Portage district have master’s degrees.

If Laing is in his 24th year with only a bachelor’s degree, then he’d have a base pay this year of $65,354. That would jump to $75,505 with a master’s degree, and $80,035 with a master’s plus credits, according to the teacher’s union contract. But next year, Laing hits the 25th year step and gets a 4.4 percent raise, meaning those salaries will jump to $68,230 (bachelor’s), $78,826 (master’s) and $83,556 (master’s plus credits).

But Laing might have something in common with his daughter if she lands her first job in the private sector. It’s possible that both may pay about the same percentage of their health care coverage.

Portage teachers pay 20 percent of the health care premiums, which is comparable to what the average worker pays in the state of Michigan. It is also very unusual for public schools in Michigan, which often require that teachers pay only half of the average cost sharing — or less. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the average employee in Michigan pays about 21 percent of their health care costs when they sign up for employer-provided health insurance.

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