Michigan’s falling teacher salaries push some from field

The Grand Rapids Press
Detroit teachers and their friends and family protest before a school board meeting at Renaissance High school, in Detroit, May 14, 2019. The teachers were upset over a new calendar, teacher pay, building conditions and class sizes.   (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

Warren — Michigan’s declining teacher salaries are leaving many educators feeling undervalued and pushing some to leave the field.

The average salary for Michigan teachers continued to decrease last year, contributing to a 12% decline over the last decade, according to new data from the National Education Association, a labor union.

The Michigan Department of Education found that teachers’ average salary has stagnated since its peak in 2009, at $63,024, MLive.com reported.

Greg Queen, who has been teaching in Michigan for nearly 30 years, said he was unable to provide for his family after facing a decade of sluggish pay increases and rising contributions for health care and retirement benefits.

He is among many who have seen take-home pay reduced because of state mandated increases in benefits contributions, as well as forced furlough days.

Queen, who teaches at Fitzgerald Public Schools District in Macomb County, said his wife had to come out of retirement to make up for the lost income.

He said every teacher in Michigan has a similar story.

Cindy Rossi, a special education teacher with Fitzgerald Public Schools, said the declining salaries coupled with the high costs of college are becoming a deterrent for young people considering the field.

“It’s a hopeless situation,” she said. “Anyone that could get out would get out.”

Rossi said she’s ready to retire after 24 years of teaching.

“I loved my job,” Rossi said. “I loved it until probably five years ago when I saw that it was never going to get back to what it was. (Teaching) just isn’t valued.”

Queen said educators should take the lead from the wave of teacher walkouts that began in West Virginia last year.

“We need to let the public know that we’re not happy anymore,” he said.

The American Federation of Teachers Michigan and the Michigan Education Association plan to protest at two rallies at the state Capitol in Lansing on June 18 and 25.

A survey by Launch Michigan showed similar results: many educators are driven out of education by stagnant and in some cases, declining pay.

Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, said in many districts across the state, there are teachers who qualify for food assistance Bridge cards and, in a few instances, Habitat for Humanity homes.

"That statistic helps explain why one in five new teachers leave the profession within the first five years — an all-time high. Many young teachers are simply unable to pay off student loans and support themselves on such low salaries," Herbart said.

Michael Rice, the next state superintendent of public instruction told The Detroit News in May that he wants to increase pay, benefits and professional development for teachers.

Starting teacher salaries in Michigan rank 32nd in the nation, according to the report. Nationwide, 37% of districts have a starting salary of at least $40,000. In Michigan, only 12% of districts meet that threshold, according to the data.

"It is an existential moment for the profession and the profession of public education in the state of Michigan," Rice said. "As goes the teaching profession so goes public education in the state."

Recently, more than 400 teachers and union employees from Detroit public schools turned out for a board of education meeting to demand improvements, including increases in teacher pay                .

A Michigan Department of Education spokesman did not respond to an email sent Friday by an Associated Press reporter seeking comment.

Detroit News Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed to this report.