By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The average salary of public school teachers in the state dropped by $360 in 2013-14 from the previous school year, which already was $84 less than in 2011-12, according to the Michigan Department of Education.
Several factors, including declining school enrollment, account for the downward trend in average salaries, according to education experts.
School districts having the most financial trouble are also those with the greatest decline in enrollment, said Jennifer Smith, the Michigan Association of School Boards director of government relations.
“I bet if you lay them side-by-side, you’re going to find the ones that are having the most trouble are the ones that have the highest loss of students,” Smith said of funding problems. “Because we fund our schools per-pupil, that decline in enrollment is a huge problem for some districts.”
Jennifer Dirmeyer, an assistant professor of economics at Ferris State University, said the decrease in average salaries is also strongly driven by the age and experience of teachers.
Dirmeyer said, “It doesn’t appear as though new teachers are making any less than new teachers have made in the past — it’s just that there are more new teachers now, as a percentage of total teachers, than there have been in the past.”
Dirmeyer said that while downward trends may continue, once recently hired teachers’ salaries increase annually with experience, average salaries will also rise.
However, David Crim, the communications consultant at the Michigan Education Association, said there are districts in which teachers are experiencing an actual salary reduction.
“Even in those districts where teachers receive that small percentage increase, increases in required contributions in health care premiums translate into a pay reduction for those teachers as well,” he said.
Although the average salary for the entire state went down, salaries in individual districts varied, the Education Department analysis showed.
For example, in Leelanau County, the average teacher salary in Suttons Bay Public Schools decreased $13,578 from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Glen Lake Community Schools, located in the same county, saw an average increase of $4,453 for the same period.
In Mecosta County’s Chippewa Hills School District, the average dropped from $64,333 to $60,813. But in Big Rapids Public Schools, the average rose slightly, from $57,713 to $58,077.
In Grand Traverse County, salaries rose in the Traverse City Area Public Schools from $58,549 to $59,399 and in Kingsley Area Schools from $57,979 to $60,457.
In Wexford County, average salaries in Cadillac Area Public Schools decreased from $52,517 to $51,258 and in Manton Consolidated Schools from $45,555 to $42,167.
Average salaries in the Crawford AuSable School District decreased from $51,978 to $51,802.
Crawford AuSable School District Superintendent Joe Powers said that the average reported salary tends to be a misleading number.
Powers said that during his time in the district, teacher salaries have gone up 1 percent every year, and the average actually answers the question, “how old are your teachers?
“If a teacher retires at $65,000 and you bring in a new teacher at $35,000, it drops your average but has nothing to do with your salary schedule,” said Powers.
He said the real problem for all K-12 public schools is declining enrollment. While enrollment has been dropping across the state, expenses will always rise. And expenses like teachers, he said, are items that cannot be reduced.
Powers said, “Declining enrollment is the largest financial difficulty for K-12 schools because we end up having less total money every year — and that’s what’s difficult to get across to Legislature.”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CNS Editors
Michigan Department of Education: Michigan Public Schools Ranked by Select Financial Information, Bulletin 1014. http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,4615,7-140-6530_6605-21514–,00.html