News Story

Despite Enrollment Decline, Teachers Paid More

Most teachers get more, but also pay more for health insurance

Livonia Public Schools, like many Michigan school districts, is stressed by a double whammy of enrollment declines and rising pension costs.

Nevertheless, Livonia teachers still saw pay hikes averaging around 3 percent between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 school years.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is reviewing salaries at some of the state’s largest public school districts. Because financial conditions vary from district to district, analyzing them one at a time helps illustrate the realities of teacher compensation in Michigan.

Livonia has a smaller student population over the four-year period from 2010-11 to 2014-15. The Wayne County district had 16,079 students in 2010-11, a number that had declined 8 percent by 2014-15 to 14,770. With the decline came a loss of state funding, which is allocated on a per student basis.

If Livonia had maintained its 2010-11 enrollment level, it would have received an additional $10.7 million over those four years. That amount is based on the district’s 2014-15 state foundation allowance of $8,169 per pupil. The allowance is one part of the money a school receives under a state formula to pay for daily operations, including teacher salaries.

Enrollment changes vary by district, but all Michigan school districts are suffering from rising retirement expenses. Livonia contributed $12.2 million to the underfunded state-run school pension system in 2010-11. By 2014-15, that payment had increased to $20.5 million, despite the district having fewer people on the payroll. There were 3,146 Livonia school employees in 2010-11, but with fewer students, the staff also fell to 2,761 in 2014-15.

A Michigan Capitol Confidential analysis of 30 randomly selected Livonia teachers suggests salaries are rising in spite of budget pressures. Average teacher pay for these 30 individuals was $75,311 in 2010-11, which rose to $78,861 in 2014-15. This mirrors districtwide pay data collected by the Michigan Department of Education, which shows an average teacher salary of $75,803 at Livonia in 2010-11, rising to $78,103 in 2014-15.

The pay increases of individual teachers differed from the average based on their seniority and academic credentials. Of the 30 teachers reviewed, four saw no gain because they had already reached the top of the union pay scale, with salaries that ranged from $82,984 to $83,790.

But younger teachers who started with salaries in the low-$30,000-to-low-$40,000 range saw large increases.

For example, one teacher saw her salary rise from $43,605 to $57,254 in the four-year period, a 31 percent gain. Another teacher who was paid $37,581 in 2010-11 rose to a salary of $47,109 in 2014-15, a 25 percent increase.

But the vast majority of teachers in the sample were already near or at the top of the union pay scale and saw salary increases of a total of 2.2 to 2.5 percent over the four-year period.

None of the 30 teachers reviewed had a reduction in pay over the four-year period.

Livonia Superintendent Andrea Oquist said that about two out of every three teachers in her district are at the top of the union pay scale, which is achieved after about 12 years on the payroll. The district had 894 teachers in 2014-15.

Oquist provided information on teacher salary increases that shows how complicated union-negotiated pay scales can get. Raises come in two forms, seniority-based “step" increases, and percentage changes across all or part of the pay scale. For example, in 2011-12, only newer teachers in the two lowest steps got raises, while those in the top tier held steady, and everyone else got a 1 percent cut.

Livonia teachers have also seen significant increases in out-of-pocket expenses, according to Oquist.

Health care premiums for a family plan increased from an annual payment of $960 to $4,500. Some staffers are paying more for pension contributions, and the school district itself is paying more into the system.

Oquist said due to health care and pension costs, a $40,000-a-year employee at Livonia could have seen deductions from each paycheck increase from $80 to $300 per pay period.

Note to readers: This is the second in a series of Michigan Capitol Confidential analyses of compensation changes in some of the state’s largest school districts. As in this article, they look at the actual pay changes for a sample of 30 unnamed teachers, as reported by the districts in data received in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.