Detroit public school district hikes starting teacher pay to $51K

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

New teachers in Detroit Public Schools Community District will earn up to $51,071 starting in the 2020-21 academic year, making starting teacher pay the highest in Metro Detroit, officials announced Thursday.

Teachers from Detroit Public Schools Community District attend training on the district’s new curriculum in 2018.

It's a jump from the current salary, which allows first-year teachers to earn around $38,000 with a $1,000 increase each following year, maxing out at 15 years. 

The move is expected to help fill positions and retain instructors, the district said in a statement.

“This investment will prevent a greater teacher recruitment crisis for our students when you consider the national and regional shortage of undergraduate students choosing to be a teacher and the fact that nearly a third of our teachers could retire at any moment and another third of teachers could be in a position to retire in one to four years,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

“If we do not act with a sense of urgency regarding the recruitment of teachers to DPSCD, then we slow the progress our children are making and own the failure to develop a long-term strategy to prevent the vacuum that a mass retirement could create over the next five years.”  

Leaders with the Detroit Federation of Teachers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The district said it has raised teacher salaries across the board for the last three years; the average was nearly $10,000 since 2016-17, when vacancies reached 275.

The district said vacancies have since fallen to 70 this year.

The Michigan Education Association last year reported the average starting teacher salary in the state was $36,309. Some 12% of districts statewide had a starting salary of at least $40,000, the group found.

In a statement to The Detroit News on Thursday, Vitti said district teachers earning below the $51,000 mark would be moved to that level.

“Over the past three years our greatest investments have been in teacher compensation because we know that is where the greatest return on investment is generated,” said Iris Taylor, president for the district's board of education.

“The district remains staunchly committed to improving compensation for all educators to ensure Detroit’s children have access to the highest quality teachers possible. We will continue to work to make all of our teachers the highest paid in the state and country.”

Vitti, who since arriving in the district in 2017 has made systemic changes including replacing the curriculum, reducing chronic absenteeism and amassing a budget surplus, has called teacher pay one of the most challenging issues for DPSCD.

In May 2018, the superintendent changed district policy by agreeing to pay teachers for their full years of experience outside the district, the state’s largest. Past policy only credited teachers for two years.

Instructors in the district, which serves about 51,000 students, have also been seeking competitive pay.

Last year, the teachers’ union sought an agreement for teachers at the top of the district pay scale to receive a 4.3% wage hike and earn $73,000 starting in February 2020.

The district’s salary decision announced Thursday includes plans to reduce class sizes in the fall, officials said.

“Not only do teacher vacancies negatively impact student achievement, but it adds to the stress and burden felt by our teachers who need to cover classrooms, manage larger class sizes, or redirect students who do not have a consistent learning process throughout the school day in classes with substitutes,” Vitti said. “Smaller class sizes are also imperative as students and teachers return to schools as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.”