‘Teacher of the Year’ earns $20,000 less than average, thanks to union rules

Robby Soave Reporter
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District Superintendent Dr. Thomas Harwood called him “a teacher amongst teachers.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder described him as an outstanding math and science instructor with a tireless dedication to his craft.

So why does Gary Abud, the 2013-14 Michigan Teacher of the Year, make well below the average salary for teachers in his district?

The answer lies with the anti-meritocratic compensation rules governing teachers unions in Michigan.

Abud, a Grosse Pointe North High School math teacher, made $56,876 last year, according to data obtained by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. That’s about $20,000 less than the average teacher salary in the Grosse Pointe Public Schools system — a relatively affluent suburban district.

In fact, Abud’s salary doesn’t even beat the Michigan average of $62,631 in 2012.

Union compensation rules are to blame. Teachers are generally paid based on their seniority and level of educational achievement, rather than on their record as educators. Veteran teachers with advanced degrees receive higher salaries, regardless of whether their teaching methods are shown to work.

That pay system doesn’t encourage excellent teachers like Abud, said Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at The Mackinac Center.

“Paying teachers as if they are assembly line workers is not a good way of rewarding teachers who do a great job,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Abud agreed in part, and said teacher compensation should be based on a multitude of factors, including merit.

“Ultimately, effective teaching should be evaluated and compensated using a multi-faceted approach determined at the local level with educators at the decision-making table,” he said in a statement.

House Bill 4625 would achieve just that. The bill, which was recently approved by the Michigan House Education Committee and will now move to the full House of Representatives, would require districts to use objective merit as one basis for determining pay.

“The assessment of job performance shall incorporate a rigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation system that evaluates a teacher’s or school administrator’s performance at least in part based upon data on student growth as measured by assessments and other objective criteria,” reads the text of the bill.

Van Beek called the bill a good start, but stressed that districts should not be forced to become overly reliant on standardized tests.

“We don’t want to go to a place where the only thing that matters is student performance on standardized tests,” he said. “Private companies use many different metrics, so I think there should be room in there for school districts to look at a wide range of metrics. But definitely move away from seniority-based pay.”

The Michigan Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union — opposes the bill, as does the state Board of Education. Both organizations cited the importance of compensating teachers based on the number of degrees and certificates they have earned as a prime reason to oppose the merit pay bill.

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