News Story

Union Enlists a Mayor to Endorse Fabulist Claims on Teacher Pay

Poverty-level pay? Only if a first-year teacher has seven dependents

The Michigan Education Association has for years promoted a claim that public school teachers are so underpaid that many live in poverty. The facts show it would require extraordinary and highly unlikely circumstances for a full-time teacher in the state to meet the official definition of poverty.

Michigan’s largest teacher union recently enlisted a new ally in promoting this narrative: Royal Oak Mayor Mike Fournier.

The MEA wrote in a press release that Fournier “knows educators who’ve watched their pay drop to poverty levels due to step freezes and state-mandated health care premium increases.”

Fournier’s wife teaches at the Waterford School District, where the union contract sets the lowest starting salary for a first-year teacher at $37,200. At the Royal Oak school district, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts at $38,452.

Statewide, the average salary for Michigan public school teachers was $61,978 in 2014-15, the most recent year for which data is available. At Royal Oak Schools, the average teacher salary that year was $66,506.

The federal poverty guidelines start at $12,060 for a single person and reach as high as $41,320 for a household with eight people living in it.

To meet this definition, a starting teacher with a salary of $37,140 would have to be the sole breadwinner for a household of seven. With its slightly higher starting pay, a new Royal Oak teacher would have to be supporting a household of eight people.

Fournier was asked to cite the school district from which the teacher was paid at the poverty level.

He didn’t respond to that question but did comment in an email:

“I fundamentally oppose the profit-ization of education and the operatives who unfairly attack school teachers to make a buck,” Fournier said. “It's unbelievable that an intelligent person can look at starting teacher salaries and proclaim it is a livable wage for someone charged with a very important task. It is unconscionable and immoral to blame teachers for the current state of education in Michigan. We need to turn our attention to the hired guns and puppet politicians who demonize and minimize the contributions of noble people trying to make a better future for our kids.”