Right now, schools across Michigan are working to fill open teaching positions in time for the start of the school year, and pay is a main factor in attracting teachers to fill those positions.

WSBT 22 Operation Education reporter Kristin Bien reports on the state of teacher pay in Michigan.

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New numbers released this year by the National Education Association show educator pay by state.

In Michigan, the average teacher starting salary is around $37,820 dollars a year.

Michigan ranks 41st in the nation for average teacher starting salary, which is worse than all other surrounding states.

John Ritzler is not a teacher right now, but he was.

“People don’t go into education to get rich and retire early,” said Ritzler. “People go into education because they want to work with kids and they want to make a difference.”

That is why he got emotional when we sat down with him to talk about the state of teacher pay.

“Pay is not the only factor that is important, it is a factor that is important.”

Ritzler is the superintendent at Cassopolis Public Schools and since he took the job, six months ago, he has already had to hire a new teacher and he will have to hire at least one more this summer.

“If you come in with zero experience, straight out of college, we are just under 40 thousand dollars,” said Ritzler.

That’s actually higher than the average teacher starting salary in the state.

Still, that starting pay in Cassopolis, and throughout Michigan, is making it difficult for some school districts to fill open teaching positions.

“I’ve been in contact with some of our recent grads in the last week or so and they talk about what a big impact teacher pay makes on their decision where they go,” said Steven Mast, director of student teaching at Saint Mary’s College.

Student teaching is the last stop in college before teachers get their teaching license and it’s when students get a real look at the job ahead and the pay that will one day come with it.

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“Teachers need to be supported so they need to be valued with pay, I know other things our teachers look for is a community where they are nurtured,” said Mast.

Ritzler says having a stable teaching community where teachers know they are cared for is an attractive feature school districts.

According to numbers from the Michigan Department of Education, Cassopolis Public Schools average teacher salary is $41,420.

It is the lowest average teacher salary in the county and one of the lowest in southwest Michigan.

“What could be tilting that number is average salary is going to be based largely on the age of your staff and I will say we have almost half of our teachers that are in the first year of teaching,” said Ritzler. “We are going to have a huge chunk of teachers that are making less money because they are at the very beginning of their careers.”

Ritzler says Cassopolis teachers with more experience can make over $60,000.

In addition to this, he says, there are other benefits the district offers to attract teachers like bonuses, merit pay, more health insurance coverage, tuition reimbursement, and higher pay for a master’s degree.

“So, there are a lot of other benefits that we are able to build in that not every district can, which is helpful, except for younger teachers, don’t really look at those things,” said Ritzler. “They just look at starting salary.”

It is why Ritzler says changing the state of teacher pay in Michigan should be a top priority.

So, districts like Cassopolis can not only attract new teachers but also keep them.

“It is also important that teachers feel valued because they are paid and paid an honest wage, but just that they feel valued as teachers,” said Ritzler.

According to numbers from the National Education Association, the average teacher salary for existing teachers in Michigan is $64,262.

That is below the national average but still puts Michigan 17th in the nation for average existing teacher pay.

The NEA report says that adjusting for inflation, the average teacher salary has actually been decreasing since 2012.

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