Is a union benefit worth the cost to the taxpayers?
Chief Investigator Steve Wilson
11:00 AM, May 23, 2010
(WXYZ) - - Whether there’s a student in your house or not, surely you
know by now about the big battle over funding public schools with
fewer and fewer tax dollars. In light of that, our Chief
Investigative Reporter Steve Wilson is exposing a pricey union perk
where taxpayers are picking up the cost.
Parents have rallied to join school officials protesting cuts in
school funding which many say will devastate schools throughout
Leonard Rezmierski/Northville Superintendent:
We’ve taken decades to build an outstanding school district
program, and we are unwilling to let it unravel like a cheap
But what isn’t widely known by parents and others who say
costs have already been cut to the bone: hundreds of thousands of
tax dollars budgeted to educate students are being shelled out to
pay salaries and benefits for teachers' union officials. Did you
know it’s happening to one degree or another in more than two
dozen districts just in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties?
In the Southfield district, for instance, Ted Peters stopped
teaching Social Studies a dozen years ago when he became the
full-time union president representing that district’s
teachers. Yet, his pay still comes from the schools, every penny of
his $109,000 in annual pay and benefits, as if he were still
teaching students. His main job now: educating Superintendent Wanda
Cook-Robinson and other district officials about ways they can
better support teachers with more benefits, pay and better working
Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson/Southfield Superintendent:
Not only do we pay his salary and benefits package, but we pay the
salary and benefit package of a person to replace him as well.
That’s right, generally when this happens, each district
has to go out and hire a new teacher as they did when they hired
Peters’ classroom replacement at Thompson Middle School for
another $100,000. Now, Southfield’s superintendent will be
the first to tell you there are terrific teachers working hard to
produce impressive results in her district, even in wake of about
$21 million in budget cuts in the last three years. Even so, she
says, shouldn’t the unionized teachers support their own
Dr. Cook-Robinson: And I think the dues that
individuals pay could perhaps go toward the president, but I think
we need these dollars here in the district for student
In Lansing, State Representative Marty Knollenberg agrees
State Rep. Marty Knollenberg/R-Troy: My argument
is one dollar spent on union activity should be one dollar paid for
by the union membership dues.
His bill to stop Michigan school districts from paying all or
even part of the paychecks of union bosses has gotten nowhere.
State Rep. Knollenberg: As soon as they leave the
function of school duties and start acting as labor
representatives, then the labor organization should pay for their
salaries and benefits.
Attention Troy taxpayers: did you know your school district is
paying Roberta Masters her full teacher’s salary and
benefits—a little more than $140,000 a year—even though
she left the classroom four years ago when she became a union
president. Her replacement in the classroom is costing another
$66,000. In Farmington, essentially the same deal for union
president Dave Workman.
Wilson: Shouldn’t classroom teachers be used
in the classroom and dollars be used to keep as many of them in the
classroom instead of having them across the table bargaining, in
effect, against the taxpayer?
Dave Workman/Farmington Schools Union President:
Well I would argue I bargain very much for the taxpayer, because
we’re about learning and doing it in a way that’s most
In Lansing, the state teacher’s union defends the practice
we’re exposing here, saying its union presidents aren’t
always just hammering administrators, demanding more at a
Doug Pratt/MEA Spokesman: Keep in mind that
they’re also taxpayers themselves. This is a situation where
you really are working collectively, that’s why it’s
called collective bargaining.
And, he says, when they’re not negotiating teacher
contracts, they’re doing important work that helps school
administrators, like preparing for H1N1 problems and averting
personnel crises from time to time.
Doug Pratt: They’re taking those things off
their plates so than can put their full focus on service Michigan
Back in Southfield, where heated negotiations have left teachers
without a contract for nearly two years, the superintendent remains
Dr. Cook-Robinson: And I want every tax dollar
going toward the environment to improve student achievement.
Wilson: And you think that can best be done with
teachers in the classroom.
Dr. Cook-Robinson: Absolutely.
Wilson: And let the union members pay their union
Dr. Cook-Robinson: Yes.
If you have a tip for the Action News Investigative Team,
contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.