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Implementation of Michigan Pay-Reform Initiative Questioned

Many districts and teachers' unions in Michigan don't appear to have refashioned their pay schedules in accordance with a 2010 state law, while others have met the letter of the law's requirements but not its spirit, contends an analysis by a free-market think tank.

According to the Mackinac Center, a majority of districts and unions whose new contracts fell under the timeline specified in the law didn't negotiate any compensation changes to "step and lane" salary schedules, which pay teachers for years worked and credentials held. A handful of other districts offered minimal additional rewards of $1 to $3 per teacher based on performance.

The center paints a picture of districts and unions subverting the law's intent.

But in at least a few cases, the local teachers' union and district appear to have jointly come up with an interesting new pay system.

In the Blissfield Community Schools, a district of three schools serving about 1,200 students southwest of Detroit, pay will now be tied to classroom performance. That makes it one of just a handful of districts in the nation (let alone Michigan) to experiment with changes to the base-pay system. The criteria and awards system for the process don't appear to be listed on its website, but I've reached out to the superintendent for details.

In an Associated Press article, the district's union president, Gary Sullivan, is quoted as saying the process was a collaborative one: "I think the administration and school board were very fair trying to listen to our concerns, ... and we got a contract everyone can live with," Sullivan said.

Blissfield's story is interesting on two fronts. First, a 2011 state law lets districts set new compensation systems going forward. And second, just a year earlier, the union reportedly took a "no confidence" vote in the superintendent. So something seems to be afoot in the tiny district.

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