In a recent Detroit News Op-Ed, Birmingham Public Schools Superintendent David Larson and the local teachers’ union president Scott Warrow spoke about how the school district and teachers’ union have worked together to cut costs. But the union contract portrays a different financial picture. During the four-year period Larson and Warrow said salary costs in the district were cut by 15 percent, the teachers’ contract allowed some teachers’ salaries to increase by more than 32 percent.
Larson didn’t respond to an email or phone message seeking comment about the teachers’ compensation.
On June 10, Larson and Warrow laid out Birmingham’s “strong fiscal stewardship.”
“Since the 2006-07 school year, Birmingham has reduced its overall salary costs by nearly 15 percent through a variety of measures including: third party contracting, consolidation of services, and reductions in staff pay and benefits. In the most recent union contract, Birmingham teachers have assumed 70 percent of the increased costs of health insurance, and had incurred 60 percent of the cost in the previous contract,” they wrote in the Op-Ed.
According to documents received in a Freedom of Information Act request, Birmingham stated it saved $2.8 million by contracting out custodial and transportation services in 2008-09.
But two news sites have reported that Birmingham teachers gave up their “regularly scheduled” raise in salary for 2010-11. What both stories didn’t mention is that teachers with less than 11 years experience would still get annual “step increases” ranging from 3.5 to 7.1 percent, depending on the level of the teachers' education. And according to the Michigan Department of Education, about 62 percent of the 580 teachers in the district were eligible for those “step” increases.
According to the last three teachers’ contracts, the last of which was approved by the school board in March, teachers saw their salaries increase in each of the last four school years.
For example, a teacher in Birmingham with a bachelor’s degree and four years of experience would have earned $46,603 in 2006-07, $50,434 in 2007-08, $54,041 in 2008-09, $57,905 in 2009-10 and $61,437 in 2010-11. That’s a 32 percent increase in pay over four years.
Often, news media don’t mention “step” increases and only mention across-the-board increases that all teachers are eligible to receive. (See also: Step Increases: The Big Teacher Raises That Don’t Make the News.)
“It gives the wrong impression,” said Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Teachers are getting raises, just not across-the-board raises.”
In the Detroit News’ Op-Ed, Larsen and Warrow stated that teachers gave up a district sick bank program and were paying for short-term disability insurance.
But it didn’t mention that the new agreement also spells out how teachers will end up making money because of their insurance “flexible benefits account.” According to the new deal, the district puts more money into the accounts than the cost of the benefits program. For example, the district puts $16,059 into the flex account for a two-person benefits plan. But the plan cost is $15,670. Under this plan, a teacher made a one-time payment of $89 in January 2011, and the remaining $478 is carried over “as a reserve in the employee cash account.”