Teachers to Snyder, Schuette: Give us our $550M

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan public school employees are calling on state officials to return $550 million the state Court of Appeals ruled was unconstitutionally docked from paychecks for retirement health care benefits they were not guaranteed to receive.

The state has 42 days to decide whether to appeal the June 7 ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court, but teachers and union leaders on Thursday delivered what they said were more than 33,000 school employee petitions signatures urging Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette not to do so.

Refunding the money, which has been held in escrow while the legal battle played out, could mean thousands of dollars each for some 200,000 school employees who were subjected to the paycheck deductions from 2010 to 2012.

“This money belongs to the women and men who work every day, going the extra miles to educate our children,” said David Hecker, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

In a 2-1 decision, Appeals Court Judges Douglas B. Shapiro and Jane M. Beckering said “compulsory collection” of the paycheck reduction was unconstitutional and ordered the state to return the funds to employees, plus interest.

The court issued a similar ruling in 2012, but the Michigan Supreme Court instead chose to hear a case involving a 2012 replacement law, which it upheld. The high court has not heard a challenge to the 2010 law itself.

“We’ve been fighting this in court for five years, and we’ve won every step of the way,” said Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook. “We stand here to demand that Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette stop beating a dead horse, stop wasting tax dollars and not appeal this decision again.”

A decision on the potential appeal has not yet been made, said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. He said discussions with the attorney general’s office are ongoing.

Hamtramck preschool teacher Michelle Cook pegged her potential refund at $4,700, and Novi High teacher Tom Brenner calculated his refund at $5,400.

The money could be meaningful, Brenner said, because his take-home pay has decreased each year since 2011.

“What I’ve had to do personally is reduce the amount of money I’m putting toward my own retirement,” he said. “I have two boys who are 9 and 11, and we’re saving for their college.”