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  • Jim Townsend

A Local Look at Statewide Issues Impacting Education

There have been a few articles recently published in statewide media about trends impacting K-12 education in the state. The Beacon wanted to take a closer look at the local impacts on these trends.

The first article was posted in Bridge magazine on November 7th. This article can be found HERE. Some important statistics from this article include:

  • “More than 2,500 Michigan classrooms were led by long-term substitutes who weren’t certified during the 2018-19 school year, a tenfold increase in five years….”

  • “Enrollment at Michigan’s teacher preparation programs dropped 70 percent in eight years, according to federal data.”

  • “Average teacher pay in Michigan was lower in 2017-18 ($61,908) than in 2009-10 ($63,024) — even without taking inflation into account. Nationally, teaching pays 20 percent less than the earnings of professionals with comparable education backgrounds.”

The second piece was published in the Lansing State Journal on January 19th. This piece can be found HERE. This piece stated that “In a 2017 white paper published by the Michigan Department of Education 9,964 initial certificates were issued for teachers during the peak school year of 2003-04. By 2015-16, the number of initial certificates had dropped 62% to 3,696.”

The statistics show clearly that enrollment in teacher education programs in the state has diminished in recent years. With the current strong economy in the state, as well as many professionals who would be considered “Baby Boomers”, generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, retiring or soon to be retiring from teaching, the supply of certified teachers in the job market is a topic of concern in many districts.

First, we wanted to take a look at how teacher pay in the Portland Public schools compares to other districts in the area. While a side by side comparison is difficulty as education level and experience scales vary from district to district, from what we found on other district websites, Portland pays its teachers a higher or comparable salary at most experience levels. The following pay scale images are from the respective district websites.






When we asked Portland Public Schools Superintendent William Heath about the impact of salary on people entering the teaching profession, Heath said, “I agree that teacher pay is critical to encouraging more to go into the field but there are other factors. Retirement cost, health insurance, work conditions, and training are all big factors as well. Unfortunately, many people blame the local district for these issues and the reality is that everything we do is dependent on our Legislature and MDE. We have done our best in Portland over the past four years to help our teaching staff but our hands are tied when it comes to many of the concerns.”

As for the current pay scale in the district, Heath explained the bigger picture by saying “Last year the district and our local teacher union finalized a 5-year contract. In that contract we made significant gains with teacher pay. For the first time the district used a revenue formula to determine the level of raises for teachers. This formula specifically looked at the amount of increased revenue from the previous year and then applied that amount to three possible levels for raises. With enrollment increases the highest raise level was reached and the teaching group saw, as a whole, the largest increase in over a decade. The way our funding works the district doesn’t know revenue for the school year until the fall of that year even though our fiscal year starts July 1st. By using a revenue formula, we wait until the fall to determine our actual revenue and then employee compensation.”

Heath added, “One of the goals of our new contract was to increase our starting pay for teachers. This allows us to be more competitive with other districts in our area when recruiting quality talent. Our goal was to get our starting salary over $40,000 for new teachers. At the time of negotiations there was only one district in Lansing area that was over that amount. Our starting salary this year is now just under $40,000 and will be over $40,000 next year.”

He went on to say, “With all of this said, there is still work to be done for compensating teachers and honestly all employees. Many of our staff are struggling with student loan debt, starting a family, and returning to college for advanced degrees. The level and quality of work needed to work in schools does not match the compensation. The needs of our student’s changes and increases yearly. Working in schools in 2020 is significantly different than it was 10 or more years ago. This is not a Portland problem this is a State of Michigan problem and is something all districts are facing.”

We also asked Heath to help us get a better understanding of the other costs district faces when hiring staff. He explained, “Over the years there has been a significant increase in costs that are either placed on the employee or the district. This includes increased costs for insurance and retirement. Portland Public Schools teachers receive insurance benefits that cover health, vision, dental, life and long-term disability. For a teacher with full family coverage, the district’s annual cost for 2020 will be $19,778. Teachers are also part of the Michigan Public Schools Employee Retirement System which provides income and health benefits during a teacher’s retirement. There are multiple plans under this retirement system but the district’s cost averages between 27-30% of a teacher’s salary.”

“For example, a teacher at Portland Public Schools that has a Master’s degree and 20 years of experience at the district would have a salary of $69,497. With full family health insurance, retirement costs and employer payroll taxes, the district will spend approximately $46,000 additional for a total employee cost in excess of $115,000.”

The Bridge Magazine article listed above showed the predominate statewide use of uncertified long-term subs to lead classrooms in the absence of certified staff. We asked Heath about Portland use of long-term subs and the causes behind the use of these subs. He said, “The district currently is employing a few long term substitutes. Every year we have staff that are out for medical reasons including maternity leave. This semester we have three long term substitutes for positions that are open. We are actively searching for full time employees to hire for these positions. There is a significant teacher shortage in the State of Michigan and it is quickly becoming a crisis. The three positions are High School Foreign Language, Elementary Special Education, and an Art teacher for Portland St. Pats. We will continue to recruit to find replacements for these positions. Unfortunately, the future for hiring employees is not looking good. There was a day when we would have dozens of applicants for each open position. In the past couple of years we are averaging less than five applicants per position and in some cases, like our current openings, we have had zero applicants. There are less and less students going into the educational field and universities are producing less teachers.”

If you are asking why Portland Public Schools is looking for an “Portland St. Pats,” you can learn more about this sharing agreement in article the Beacon posted back on June 12th. You can find that article HERE.

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