In August, Michigan public school teacher Stephanie Keiles became a folk hero when she went public with her story about why she was quitting her job.

Keiles had spent nine years as a teacher in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools when she announced in an online essay that she was leaving the profession. The Michigan Education Association promoted her story as did prominent national websites, including The Washington Post and Huffington Post. A Michigan newspaper columnist recited Keiles' claims as if they were the gospel truth as an example of how teachers are not respected. National public schools advocate Diane Ravitch even weighed in, saying how "budget cuts" finally got to the schoolteacher.

Yet, there is much about Keiles’ story that remains untold and some parts that we do know are just not true. A review of the district's financial data as well as Keiles' own salary through her tenure (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the district) tell a completely different story than the one she penned in her essay.

Keiles received robust raises in her first five years, including a salary increase of 20 percent in her second year. By the time she made an annual salary of $57,000, however, her employer's financial situation had completely changed. While Keiles blames “Republican goons” for her district’s problems, the reality was the GOP had very little do with the troubles facing Plymouth-Canton.

Keiles appears to live in a vacuum — indifferent to the real world economic troubles her employer was facing when she became disillusioned with her compensation and turned to criticizing the district for not handing out big raises. In reality, the district's enrollment was trending downward, federal funding had evaporated and pension costs for teachers like Keiles had skyrocketed.

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Keiles’ compensation record shows an employee who joined the school district as a first-year teacher with a salary of $39,954. The next year, she got a 20 percent salary raise and made $47,947.

Keiles’ salary increased to $51,114, $54,278 and $57,448 in successive years. In the first five years of her employment, her salary had increased nearly $17,500.

The next four years would see her salary increase by $2,898, ending at $60,346.

In her goodbye missive, Keiles wrote: "I am looking forward to being treated like a professional, instead of a child, and I'm pretty sure I will never hear the words, 'We can't afford to give you a raise,' or worse (as in the past two years), 'You're going to have to take a pay cut.' " (Note: Keiles' salary was cut in her second-to-last year, which was 2013-14. Her pay cut: $82. But she was wrong to imply that her salary was cut during her last year. It increased to $60,346 in 2014-15.)

As Keiles progressed in her career, her employer's financial outlook changed for the worse.

In 2009-10, Keiles received a 6.2 percent raise that boosted her pay to $54,278. But this was the last year the school district would see an increase in enrollment, which topped out at 18,989 students. Enrollment then began a five-year slide until it hit 17,507 in 2014-15.

For the 2014-15 year, the loss of 1,482 students from what had been the case five years earlier translated to a reduction of $10.7 million in funding. That’s how much more money the district would have received in its foundation allowance had enrollment stayed at the 2009-10 level. The foundation allowance is about 85 percent of the total amount the state sends to an average district for its operational expenses.

And while enrollment was dropping, federal dollars had dried up, coinciding with Keiles' final years in the district.

In 2008-09, Keiles received a 6.6 percent raise and Plymouth-Canton’s general fund budget of $155.2 million had $7.2 million in federal dollars, mostly from President Barack Obama’s federal stimulus. By 2014-15, the district’s general fund budget had dropped to $146.6 million, which included just $365,165 in federal dollars. That was a loss of nearly $7 million in federal money from the year when Keiles was getting a 6.6 percent raise.

And the biggest financial burden the district had to face is one Keiles never mentioned — the cost of paying for the pensions of teachers such as herself (although she did complain about the contributions she had to make to her own pension). The Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System has become a budget killer for just about every district in the state and Keiles’ district was no exception.

In 2010-11, Keiles received the last significant raise of her tenure — a 5.8 percent raise that boosted her salary to $57,448. That year, the district paid $11.8 million to cover the costs of MPSERS. In 2013-14, the last year for which data is available, those costs had nearly doubled to $21.7 million. The pension costs had increased by almost $10 million from just three years earlier.

In the end, Keiles railed about her own choices and that "financial decisions were made based on anticipated future income that never materialized, for me and for thousands and thousands of other public school teachers."

That is true not only for Keiles, but also for the school district.

The data shows that when retirement costs were much lower, enrollment was increasing and federal dollars flowed, Keiles thrived financially.

When Keiles’ and other school employees’ pension costs skyrocketed, federal funds all but disappeared and enrollment dropped for five consecutive years, the district had to make tough financial choices.

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools was not in deficit in 2014-15.

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See also:

Teacher Quits, Rips GOP 'Goons' - Who Gave Her District $5.3 Million Extra Despite Fewer Students


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