A $1.5 million gamble: Michigan’s Education Crisis (Society’s Slideshow)

Michigan’s financial crisis has forced the state to take some radical austerity measures to cut costs. Teachers are being forced to pay 20% of their health care costs, as well as take pay cuts in some districts. However, the cost of administration remains somewhat under-reported and therefore unchecked.

John Covington has been brought to the Detroit area to be chancellor of some of Detroit’s poorest performing schools. As the district continues to struggle in the wake of Robert Bobb’s failed attempt to manage the finances of the school district, Covington is being awarded a contract that will total $1.5 million in compensation.

The message here is strikingly similar to the corporate agenda. The more money we offer the top brass, the more likely it is that the shiniest brass will come our way. Surely the workers will understand that this is necessary for the company’s future.

But Detroit Public Schools would seem hardly the place where the workers would “surely understand.” In 2009, they were forced to defer $250 per paycheck into a personal fund that would pay up to $10,000 when they left the school district in order to avoid a permanent 10% pay cut. Just recently, the newest (non-elected) emergency financial manager flew in the face of union contracts and cut their pay 10% anyway.

District superintendents will often receive a six-figure salary and a car allowance as compensation for ensuring the best possible future for our children. However, Covington’s compensation takes the cake.

He will receive a $175,000 signing bonus, and $225,000 his first year. The second year, he gets $325,000, and if he meets as yet undetermined goals, he will get $425,000 his remaining two years. He will also get $800 per month for car expenses which will total $38,400 by the end of his contract.

For the same price as Covington’s exorbitant salary, you could get roughly 42 full time educators for a single school year being paid $35,000 per year. His car allowance alone could pay for another.

After all, it is the teachers who must implement the best practices as imagined by the superintendent. They are the ones keeping the class sizes down, presenting the curriculum, talking to parents (at least to the ones willing to forego the American Idol finals to go to conferences), and working tirelessly to ensure AYP is met.

However, every time money is needed for anything in a school district, the first thing that is investigated is teacher salary and compensation. The question becomes “What can we get the teachers to give up?” rather than “What will the superintendent or administration give up?” Layoffs usually follow, class sizes increase, teacher pay decreases, and instruction usually suffers.

It is time for the Rick Snyder and the rest of our legislators to realize who the greatest difference makers are. Pay and benefits for school administration has risen way out of line with comparable private sector jobs. A district manager for a fast food chain still might only expect a five-figure salary.

Yet, time and time again it is the teachers who suffer the consequences of the lack of regulation for school administrative salaries. It seems that Detroit schools, among others, are more willing to tell their teachers they matter less than paying for the cars or the health care of the top brass.

It may ring true that in order to attract the best talent, you have to offer the best money. However, Snyder, our legislators, and Detroit Public Schools have a genuinely misguided sense of where to spend money to attract the best talent.


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