As Detroit’s schools chief celebrates new salaries, veteran teachers may want to give the district a second look

Detroit school officials took to the podium on Thursday to trumpet new pay guidelines they hope will help fill 190 teacher vacancies.

And with good reason. A Chalkbeat analysis of the largest Michigan districts found that Detroit now ranks near the middle of the pack in pay for five- and 10-year teachers.

Among the state’s largest districts, 10th-year teacher salaries in Detroit are in the middle of the pack

Salaries for Detroit district teachers with 10 years of experience are in line with salaries for the state’s six largest districts. Source: District contracts.

What’s more, by paying new teachers higher salaries for their prior experience outside the district – part of a $30 million deal with the Detroit Federation of Teachers – Detroit salaries can now compete with salaries in six of the state’s largest districts.

When it comes to pay for experienced teachers, Detroit falls in the middle of the pack, an improvement after years of languishing near the bottom of teacher pay in Michigan. Detroit teachers in their fifth or 10th year now make less than their peers in Utica, Plymouth-Canton, and Ann Arbor – but more than equally experienced teachers in Dearborn and Grand Rapids.

Add full pay for experienced new hires, and the picture brightens. A teacher in Plymouth-Canton with 10 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree makes $60,780. In previous years, a move to Detroit would have meant a pay cut of thousands of dollars.

Under the newly amended contract? The teacher would make $60,169.

“This will finally empower our principals … to actively recruit veteran teachers to come back to Detroit,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a press conference Thursday morning. Now teachers “have the financial incentive — and the respect — to come back,” he said.

And by fully recognizing prior teaching experience, the main Detroit district sets itself apart from similarly sized districts such as Dearborn and Plymouth-Canton. Dearborn gives new teachers credit for only two years of experience outside the district. Plymouth-Canton credits teachers for no more than five years of work.

The change is part of a contract amendment designed to make up for years of pay freezes — and aid the district’s race to fill vacant teaching posts. Without enough certified teachers, some schools have been forced to cram 40 or 50 students into a classroom or fill vacancies with poorly trained substitutes.

The amendment had the support of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. It was approved by the Detroit school board last week and was approved on Thursday by a state board charged with financial oversight of the main Detroit district.

Among the state’s largest districts, 5th-year teacher salaries in Detroit are in the middle of the pack

Under previous union contracts, incoming teachers could be compensated for only two years of teaching experience outside the district, a policy Vitti has blamed for the district’s struggle to make new hires.

The issue was highlighted when schools that had been under the control of a state-run recovery district were reintegrated into the main district last summer. Longtime teachers faced steep pay cuts under the new contract. In one extreme case, a veteran music teacher left the district rather than accept a $30,000 pay cut.

The amended contract will go into effect this summer, meaning veteran teachers can be hired at higher salaries in time for next school year. Vitti pegged the total cost of the payments at $30 million, most of which is included in this year’s budget. Teachers at the top of the pay scale — roughly two-thirds of Detroit teachers — will also receive bonuses.

The deal also repays current district teachers for four years of pay freezes, retroactively acknowledging the experience they gained with the district.

AuStina Nelson had been teaching for 10 years when she was hired as an arts instructor at Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School three years ago. Under the previous contract, she was credited with only two years of experience. Now she’ll receive full credit, which translates to a raise of more than $10,000.

“This is good news,” Nelson said after a press conference in her school’s library. “We’re finally being recognized.”