News Story

Superintendent: We Don't Have Money To Give Top Teachers Merit Pay

Two years of ineffective teaching could disqualify a teacher from working – but not a pay hike

Jackson Public Schools had a teacher it was trying to remove in 2014-15 because she had been rated “ineffective” two years in a row. The school district attempted to fire the individual and she responded by filing for a hearing before a state court.

That teacher, however, saw her salary increase by $1,115 to $65,245 in 2015-16 – the second consecutive year the district assessed her as “ineffective.” The teacher’s name is not being published by Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Meanwhile, other teachers the district rated as highly effective saw their pay go down. Samuel Ulstad was rated as a “highly effective” teacher in 2015-16. Yet his pay was reduced two consecutive years, according to the state database of the teachers’ pension system. Ulstad’s base salary was $75,959 in 2013-14. It declined to $75,725 in 2014-15 and dropped again, to $75,209, in 2015-16.

The school district said Ulstad’s salary did not go down but remained the same all three years, adding that the stated reductions were due to how bonuses are tracked by the state.

Similar disparate pay scenarios play out in school districts across the state of Michigan because they are all effectively required to use a union-negotiated pay scale that determines teacher pay solely on the basis of years of service and the number of college credits accrued. Teacher pay is by far the largest operational expense in school district budgets.

Teachers move up on the pay scale every year, regardless of their classroom performance, until they reach the top of the pay scale. Ulstad’s salary was stagnant because he was at the top of the scale and thus not eligible for any automatic raises.

Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Beal said in an email that his district has negotiated into the teacher contracts a rule that any teacher who receives “ineffective” ratings two years in a row can be fired. (Click HERE to see Beal's entire email.)

“What you should know about Jackson Public School is that the teachers have negotiated into their contract that two years of ineffective teaching will disqualify you from working for JPS as a teacher in accordance with our adopted Board policies,” Beal said. “So while a teacher under the collective bargaining agreement may have received a half-step raise, even with an ineffective rating, that shortsighted gain will ultimately result in that teacher being removed for failure to perform.”

Beal also explained the issues schools have with merit pay, which the district does not offer. A 2009 law mandates schools provide some type of merit pay for compensation.

“In Michigan, our merit pay system failed to provide additional resources to fund incentive programs, leaving schools with very little in the way of implementing a merit-based incentive program above the salary schedule in an environment when most districts have had to make drastic cuts for years due to dwindling resources,” Beal said.

“In essence this was poorly conceived and poorly implemented on the state’s part and was exactly what it sounded like, a great sound bite without any real systemic data to back it up.”

The law requires school districts to include job performance and job accomplishments as significant factors in determining teacher compensation. It also requires both unions and school districts to engage in good faith collective bargaining. But school districts claim the contracts they negotiate with the union leave nothing for rewarding excellent teachers beyond the set union scale amount.