Union President Attacks School Board While They Pay Her Not to Teach

Ann Arbor teachers union president gets full-time release, mostly paid for by taxpayers

While Ann Arbor Public Schools teachers union president Linda Carter has claimed the superintendent and school board were trying to "destroy" the school district, that same school board has spent $250,000-plus allowing union officials to work on union activities during school hours instead of teaching.

Called "release time," this special arrangement allows union president Carter to teach no classes yet collect a full-time teacher's salary of $77,502, for which the district pays half and the union pays half. However, the school district covers the entire cost of Carter's health care and pension benefits, at an annual cost estimated to be around $40,000.

The district also has an arrangement with Frederick Klein, the union local's vice president. Klein is considered “halftime release,” which means he spends half his time as an elementary school teacher and the other half working on union business. Under the contract's details the district pays for half of Klein’s $77,502 salary and around $30,000 for his health care and pension benefits.

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In both instances, the district also incurs the additional expense of hiring teachers to take the place of these union officials who aren't in the classroom. The average teacher salary in Ann Arbor was $72,500 in 2013-14, according to the Michigan Department of Education. When all costs are tabulated, the district spends about $250,000 to pay union officials to do union business during school hours.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools and the Ann Arbor Education Association are in the news this month as both have filed unfair labor practices against each other, according to MLive. On July 9, the school district and union entered mediation.

What isn't disputed by both sides is that top union officials should not be burdened by classroom responsibilities while working on union matters during school hours.

“Each dollar these school districts spend on union lobbyists is a dollar taken from classrooms,” said Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, in a news release. “The last thing parents and taxpayers should have to worry about is whether money is being siphoned out of classrooms to pay for lobbyists.”

Knollenberg is the sponsor of Senate Bill 280, which would ban taxpayer-funded "release time" deals in most government employee union contracts (unions could still pay for release time themselves).

John Ellsworth, a Michigan Education Association member and teacher in the Grand Ledge Public Schools, is in favor of school districts covering some of the costs for union release time.

“Teacher union business is the business of improving public education, so I think it is wise for school districts to pay salaries for local union leaders who are doing union business,” Ellsworth said in an email. “Maximizing the taxpayer investment in public education requires both administrators and teachers — each group with its own perspective and priorities for public education — to be a part of local decision-making. Giving teacher union leaders the ability to focus on improving the school district is good for students and the community.”

The information on the Ann Arbor Public Schools' costs were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. A 2011 investigation by Michigan Capitol Confidential found that school districts in Michigan spend millions on release time across the state. That number is being updated and, once again, dozens of districts have been found to have similar special union release time deals.

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See also:

The Real-World Costs of Union Release Time

Requiring Unions to Pay for Their Own Employees Saves Taxpayer Money