A "Total Disconnect"

MEA staff salaries found to be considerably higher than teachers’

The average employee of the Michigan Education Association made almost $21,000 more in 2005 than the average Michigan public teacher.

Some $26.5 million in wages and salaries was paid out to 341 employees of the labor union, for an average salary of about $77,750. The average teacher in Michigan earned about $56,970 last year.

MEA Top Salaries 2004-05

Lu Battaglierri

$181,902

Charles Anderson

$169,521

Allan Short

$147,492

The union’s information comes from its latest disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. The form, known as an LM-2, covers the period from Sept. 1, 2004 to Aug. 31, 2005. The average teacher salary comes from the National Education Association’s fall 2005 "Rankings and Estimates: A Report of School Statistics." Michigan teachers rank fourth highest in the nation for average pay.

Of the MEA staffers who work at the union’s East Lansing headquarters, 63 made more than $57,000 last year, according to the LM-2. Of the union employees earning more than the average Michigan teacher, 36 made more than $100,000 per year. The MEA’s 133 Uniserv directors, who are located across the state and are paid to represent union members, earn an average of about $87,000 per year.

Margaret Trimer-Hartley, director of communications for the union, said in an interview with Michigan Education Report that MEA employees know they make "good salaries," and that members approve the budget structure at annual representative assemblies.

Highest paid on the list was Lu Battaglieri, at $181,902. He served as president during the period covered by the LM-2, but is now the MEA’s executive director. Charles Anderson, who retired as executive director, made $169,521. Iris Salters, the new MEA president, made $139,904 as vice president. Also high on the pay scale are Arthur Przybylowicz, general counsel for the MEA, at $174,761, and Allan Short, director of government affairs, who earned $147,492.

Trimer-Hartley, at $131,203, was just behind Jolene Kelly, director of finance, at $134,153, and Thomas Ferris, one of three people the LM-2 identified as the MEA’s director of human resources, at $134,144. Robin Langley, also listed as director of human resources, made $134,864, while Thomas Baird, another employee listed as director of human resources, made $126,282.

Some educators, however, do not feel that dues money should go toward funding such a large operation.

"It’s a tough pill to swallow," said Heather Reams, director of communications for the Association of American Educators. "It’s really a slap in the face to teachers, when union staffers make two and three times as much money."

The MEA, however, defends its operation.

"We work hard to give our members their money’s worth," Trimer-Hartley said. "They value the service this organization provides."

Chris Card, a 13-year teaching veteran in Webberville, said he thinks there is a "total disconnect" between what teachers make and what MEA staffers are paid. (See related story, page 4).

"I can’t see how they can even relate to us," said Card, who resigned from the MEA last fall. "We have a kid who comes to us and can’t go on a field trip, we take the money from our own pocket and make it happen.

"But they’re living a whole different lifestyle off what they’re pocketing from our dues," Card said about the amount paid to union staff. "They’re in a whole different place. How can they represent us?"

When asked how teachers and support personnel learn about the salary and budget process in order to vote, Trimer-Hartley said the union has an "elaborate, extensive structure" by which it provides information. Teachers must pay about $570 a year in dues to the MEA to fund that structure, while support personnel must pay half that amount. A part of that money is then sent to the National Education Association.

"It’s difficult to see a portion of your salary go to dues," Trimer-Hartley said. "But until they were increased, they were frozen for six years."

In a February 2003 memo, the MEA told members a dues increase was necessary to erase a budget deficit caused by a drop in pension assets, a decrease in investment revenue and an increase in the retirement fund liability for MEA employees.

The MEA’s investments earned $1 million interest last year, according to the 2005 LM-2. Sale of investments and assets brought in another $2.6 million. Of the union’s $123.8 million in total receipts, $64 million was from dues and fees. In addition to staff salaries, however, the MEA also paid out $1.5 million in deferred compensation and $2.5 million in prepaid retirement costs for its own employees. These amounts were not broken down by individual recipient.

"It takes a decent salary and decent benefits for us to be competitive and get the best and the brightest," Trimer-Hartley said.

A new dues structure, one based on taking a percentage of what teachers and support staff earn, could be implemented this fall. Trimer-Hartley said no dollar amount has been set as a threshold for what the MEA will collect under the new system, but a cap will be in place for the maximum amount members must pay.

"We aren’t operating a savings and loan," Trimer-Hartley said. "We will only take in what we need to meet the services we are expected to deliver."

Other information gleaned from the union’s LM-2 show the MEA has $58.9 million in assets, including $29.7 million in cash.