EAST LANSING, Mich. – The head of Michigan’s statewide teachers union will retire this month to collect an estimated $115,871 state pension, even though he hasn’t worked in a school since 1993.
That’s when Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook left his position as a paraprofessional in the Lansing School District to work for the union as part of a “short term” arrangement that turned into a 24-year career.
Cook technically still works for the Lansing School District – on loan through a “union release time” clause in his contract – as he collects a $212,659 salary the union is supposed to reimburse taxpayers for. That same figure is used to calculate Cook’s state pension, which will be based on a total of 39 years – 15 with the district and 24 with the MEA.
According to Michigan Capitol Confidential:
The highest-paid Lansing school district paraprofessionals earned $28,758 in 2017, according to the union contract. A paraprofessional who started there at the same time as Cook and spent 39 years doing that job would receive an annual pension of $16,823.
The highest-paid Lansing teacher made $81,037 in 2016. If he retired after 39 years of teaching, his annual pension would be $49,530.
The MEA reimburses the Lansing district for the contributions it makes for Cook into the state pension system. However, because the pension fund is currently $29.1 billion short of the amount needed to cover future pensions, some experts argue taxpayers probably will be left holding the bag for part of Cook’s retirement.
Lansing School District superintendent Richard Halik, who signed off on the 1993 contract, told Michigan Capitol Confidential in 2015 that the arrangement was not intended as a long-term deal.
“We would have seen this as a short-term kind of thing of cooperating with the MEA,” he said. “We had an employee elected to a high post. We would have looked at it as short term. It wouldn’t have been in our mind to go on forever.”
But the union contract stipulated that it “shall be renewed” indefinitely, and Halik lather tried to convince Cook to change the wording to “may be renewed,” but he refused, the news site reports.
“That one teeny word,” Halik said referring to “shall.” “We were kind of trapped, legally. A deal is a deal.”
The Lansing School District later investigated other possible ways to wiggle out of the arrangement but could not.
“No one would have ever dreamed this would be a long term thing,” Halik said. “Who would think he would be president of the MEA? He is not a certified teacher. We would not have intended this to be a long term thing. We would have never have been thinking of this issue of retirement. We wouldn’t have entertained an idea that he is going to be there 20 to 30 years and making much more than a superintendent makes and it would impact his pension.”
Cook’s ridiculous taxpayer-funded pension is only one of numerous deals for top MEA officials.
The union’s two previous presidents also collected massive state pensions after years working for the MEA.
“Former Michigan Education Association President Iris Salters has an annual state pension of $140,000, based on a final union salary of $235,447 when she retired in 2011,” MCC reports.