By Buzz Brown
Vice president and co-founder of Munetrix

“Can Michigan teachers afford to live in the county where they work?” An interesting question and the answer is yes … and no. First, some background. Following teacher walk-outs last spring in West Virginia (soon followed by Oklahoma and Arizona) over low teacher salaries, a National Public Radio (NPR) story aired that asked a similar question, identifying Michigan as having the highest paid teacher salaries in the country. Needless to say, that claim raised a few eyebrows among those involved with teaching, school administration or providing advisory services to Michigan public school districts.

We’re curious people at Munetrix, so we did some digging and found an MLive Media Group article from May 2017 that used data provided from the Michigan League of Public Policy to rank Michigan’s 30 most populated counties by cost of living, based on a family of four: two working parents and two pre-school children. Washtenaw County ranked as the most expensive county ($67,014 per year) and Lenawee County ($51,220) ranked as the least expensive. The average teacher salary in these counties is $65,105 for Washtenaw County and $56,787 for Lenawee County. But that doesn’t tell the full story.

As a data aggregator with the ability to correlate data between school districts and municipalities, Munetrix was able to combine the data and analyze it based on teachers’ salaries for particular counties and the cost of living in those counties. We found some interesting anomalies and nuances, including Michigan counties where teachers’ salaries actually lag behind the county’s cost of living when considering a variety of factors such as child care and family status.

Looking at Oakland Schools, Walled Lake Consolidated Schools has the highest average teacher salaries ($81,593),[1] but also has a high student-to-teacher ratio, at 25 to 1. South Lyon, with lower average teacher salaries, has a younger teacher population, which would help account for the decreased pay, but also a lower student-to-teacher ratio, at 21 to 1. Madison District, the lowest paid district in Oakland County, has an average teacher salary of $52,229, and the average cost of living for an Oakland County single parent family is $56,674. With the $4,445 gap, this district could easily dispute the claim of high Michigan teacher salaries. While paid and unpaid benefits may increase the value of overall teacher compensation in any district, they don’t pay the rent or childcare (a whopping average of $18,000 in affluent Washtenaw County). The point is, the devil is in the details – and the data, when you look at it from a variety of vantage points.

Buzz Brown is a vice president and co-founder of Munetrix. He can be reached at 248.499.8355 or buzz@munetrix.com.  

[1]Source: 2016 – 2017 MDE Bulletin 1014 – Michigan Public Schools Ranked by Select Financial Information