News Story

Union Sloppiness Costs Teacher Thousands in Lost Pay, Blames Mythical ‘Funding Cuts’

Union fails to enforce its own contract; teacher loses out

Michigan’s largest teachers union claimed an Algonac public school teacher's pay was so low he was eligible for charitable housing assistance, even though he had 16 years of experience.

But this teacher’s plight appears to be due to the union’s failure to enforce contract language it negotiated, which could have increased his annual salary as much as $15,000.

The Michigan Education Association highlighted Algonac teacher Jeff Smith in a story on its website. The union said that Smith had an “untenable financial situation” after 16 years of teaching and still lived in “cramped one-bedroom duplex” with his sons.

MEA President Steve Cook also used Smith in an op-ed in The Detroit News as an example of poor pay for teachers as well as an inaccurate claim that state funding to public schools has been cut.

But under the contract his own union signed, Smith should have received service credit for previous public school teaching experience, which would have substantially boosted his pay. The contract states, "For newly hired employees, the Board shall grant salary credit for each year of outside experience in public school and/or military dependent schools up to a maximum of three years and may grant up to seven."

Smith said in an email he worked for 12 years at Farwell Area Schools before leaving for Algonac. He put in four years there, and then in 2014-15 worked at Blue Water Learning Academy, a public school for students who have been expelled. Smith said the academy was dissolved in 2014-15, and on returning to Algonac Community Schools he found himself back at the first and lowest salary step despite 16 years of public school experience, including four in that district.

Salary records received as the result of a Freedom of Information Act confirm this. Smith was not listed as a teacher in the Algonac district in 2014-15. During the 2015-16 school year, he was paid $35,447, the bottom rung on the union pay scale.

If the union had enforced its contract language, Smith would have received at least $6,000 more each year based on his previous teaching experience. But he could have been paid as much as $15,000 more each year had the district granted him credit for up to seven years as a public school teacher, which is stipulated in the union contract.

Smith wasn’t aware of contract language that should have provided a higher income for his family.

Email messages to Lisa Luberto, the local union president; Algonac Board of Education President Beth Engel; and district Superintendent John Strycker, all seeking comment on Smith’s pay status, went unanswered.

The Michigan Education Association did not respond to emails asking why Smith received no credit for previous years of teaching experience.