GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Seventeen west Michigan public school districts paid a combined $760,000 in salaries and benefits to get 29 teachers to walk away from their jobs over the past four years, according to an investigation by The Grand Rapids Press.

The Press said it reviewed 1,000 pages of personnel files obtained from 31 districts in Kent and Ottawa counties to find out the cost of teacher settlements — cases in which teachers agreed to leave due to alleged poor performance or misbehavior.

State tenure law makes it difficult and expensive to remove a teacher who has tenure, The Press reported, so districts often choose instead to negotiate a buyout. In about half of the cases reviewed by The Press, the buyout cost was below $25,000. One teacher received more than $100,000, and six left with nothing.  

Michigan Education Association officials told The Press that tenure laws are in place to protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal by their supervisors. Teachers sometimes prefer to negotiate a settlement because winning their case before the Michigan Tenure Commission would mean returning to work in a district that took action against them, while losing their case could end their teaching career, The Press reported.

The 29 teachers who agreed to settlements represent only a minute number of the districts' combined 10,250-teacher workforce, The Press reported.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Expelled: Terminated teachers cash out quietly," Nov. 23, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Tenure law is impediment to school reform," May 12, 2000