(Editor's note: A version of this article appeared in the May 9, 2010, Macomb Daily.)
About 70 percent of the Utica Community Schools' annual $260 million budget goes toward paying employees covered by its current collective bargaining agreement for teachers and a few other employee groups. (The budget figure does not include debt service payments on past construction projects or other capital expenses.) Yet few people know what is in this or other school labor contracts. This analysis of Utica's is part of an ongoing series.
Utica Community Schools is the second largest school district in the state, with 29,200 students and 1,640 teachers. Teacher salaries are determined by a single salary schedule that grants automatic raises based solely on an employee's years on the job plus additional pedagogy degrees. Teachers are evaluated once every three years, but neither these evaluations nor the performance of their students affect how much they are paid.
Utica teachers get automatic annual pay raises ranging from 5 to 8 percent as they progress through the time-on-the-job "steps" of the salary schedule, except for after their 2nd and 10th years on the job, when they get about a 13 percent pay bump automatically. All teachers also receive a 1.5 percent pay increase as the entire salary schedule grows by that amount each year. The vast majority of teachers in Utica make a base salary that's between $63,224 and $88,853. The average teacher salary was $75,420 in 2008.
The district pays $15,034 annually for a family health insurance plan. Teachers do not have to contribute anything to the cost of their health insurance premiums. 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, and pays $1,500 annually to those teachers who choose not to enroll in the district's health plan.
School employees are entitled to a lifetime pension when they retire, and are also are promised lifetime post-retirement health benefits. Based on the state-run pension system's formula, the lifetime pension for a Utica teacher with 30 years of experience and an average base salary of $88,853 (the final "step" on the single salary schedule) would be $39,983. An employee may begin collecting a pension upon reaching age of 55, or after 30 years of employment in public schools. The district also pays each teacher $500 if they announce their retirement by April 1.
Teachers are allotted an average of 11 sick leave days per year and may accumulate an unlimited amount of these. As unused sick days accumulate, teachers are rewarded with more personal leave days. After collecting 150 sick days, teachers get six personal days each year. Upon retirement, teachers are also paid $40 for each unused sick day.
Other leave time opportunities are available for teachers. The union president is allowed full release time from 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 during that time. Teachers also are allowed a full year of unpaid leave for "exploring the possibility of making a 'career change.'" After a leave of absence, teachers are automatically reassigned to their previous position.
The union contract also covers working conditions, including the minimum number of school days and hours. Teachers are required to be at school 184 days per year, for 7 hours and 20 minutes per day. This amounts to 1,326 hours annually. The national average for all professions is 1,792 hours over the span of about 225 work days.
The union contract also includes bonus pay for additional duties. Teachers are paid between $8 and $10.50 per student per day for any class-size overages. Acting as a department chairperson nets around $3,000 annually, and participating in certain "civic functions" gets $23 per hour. Finally, teachers can earn extra cash by coaching or participating in other extracurricular activities, such as band, drama, yearbook, debate, student clubs and many others. There are nearly 100 different extracurricular positions available to teachers that pay between $659 and $11,864 annually.