Michigan Teachers Take Unprecedented Salary Cuts

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In the same week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposed that teachers' starting salaries should be $60,000 a year, Michigan teachers accepted unprecedented pay cuts. Instead of engineer-equitable pay, it seems that waitress pay may be par.

Across the state, Michigan teachers got significantly less than they bargained for in this contract. The cuts came in wage freezes, two-tier wage scales, increased health care and benefit costs and increased payments to pension plans. Just how much is an "unprecedented" pay cut? Enough that some teachers may not be able to make mortgage payments. Families in which both parents are educators could lose about $30,000 next year.

Educators claimed they sacrificed salaries to avoid layoffs and program cuts. One educator, Steve Versluis, of Jenison Public Schools, says it's not about being gloomy. Versluis says with great sacrifices come great joys. Tell that to a family who may be losing their home. When families lose homes, they have to move. That means uprooting from neighborhoods, friends and schools. What about the family that can no longer afford college tuition for their children? What about the family with health issues: perhaps a disabled family member or sick child? Aren't they making enough sacrifices?

Are salary cuts really just sell-outs? No. To save programs and prevent layoffs, teachers chose to cut themselves short. The cuts were prompted by unselfish motives. Michigan teachers really had no choice, either. Collective bargaining rights are on the chopping block. Even if they voted to, public sector employees can't strike. Look what happened to Central Michigan University professors when they tried to get equitable salaries. They were sent back to work, under court order, even though administrators refused to negotiate the contract.

Concessions are a teacher's only option. They're inevitable when you're between a rock and a hard place. I doubt these concessions will have the desired effect, however. Very likely, nothing will be gained and much will be lost. We have a governor in Lansing who ruthlessly cuts education and university funding so that he can offer his business pals a $1.8 billion tea party. Someone has to pay for the lost Michigan Business Tax and the impending loss of the personal property tax from businesses. Why not working people?

These concessions won't soften Rick Snyder's heart. He won't give back what he took from education. In fact, concessions will convince him and his Republican ilk to lower the ever-diminishing wage standard. Next year there will be more cuts. These salary cuts, so costly to educators, will encourage Snyder that you really can bleed a turnip. They'll set a precedent for next year and the year after that. The Bible passage "casting pearls before swine" comes to mind.

Where's Mr. Duncan's utopian $60,000 per year starting pay for educators? Don't look in Michigan.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben has lived in Michigan all her life. A veteran teacher, she writes the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How about life in the state.

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