The conservative “think tank” Mackinac Center For Public Policy just issued a new report called “MEA Executives Take Big Pay Raises While Liabilities Continue to Grow.” The Detroit Free Press liked it so much they made it into an article of their own and ran it on the third page. Not surprisingly, there is more to the story than what appears in the Mackinac Center report or in the Free Press article.
The Mackinac Center uses the MEA Labor Organization Annual Report to highlight the pay increases of four of the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) leaders. Their report notes that Secretary-Treasurer Rick Trainor’s salary increased 44 percent, Vice President Nancy Strachan’s salary increased 16 percent, President Steve Cook’s salary increased 11 percent, and Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz’s salary increased 6 percent. The average raise of these four individuals is 19%. Dziadosz was the highest paid MEA leader last year making $224,858. I am told, but don’t have proof, that these salaries include reimbursements and therefore do not paint an accurate picture of these employee’s compensation. However, let’s just assume that the Mackinac Center’s numbers are correct, and then let’s turn the spotlight onto the Mackinac Center itself.
According to the Mackinac Center’s 2012 and 2013 990 forms (they are a non-profit too), Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman received an 18% pay hike. Lehman was compensated a total of $233,401! So Lehman makes more than anyone in the MEA, and his percentage raise was greater than the raise received by three of the four MEA members that the Mackinac Center targeted. Unlike the MEA’s report, the Mackinac Center’s report leaves off some of their top staff members. For instance, Audrey Spalding, their Director of Education Policy, is not listed on the report. I was particularly interested in her compensation since I recently uncovered what I believe to be a major conflict of interest regarding Ms. Spalding’s service on a charter school board in Taylor.
Another reason that the Mackinac Center lacks credibility in this debate is that they don’t disclose their funding. We know the MEA’s executives are being compensated by 144,000 members who voluntarily pay their dues. Meanwhile, the Mackinac Center operates via so-called “dark money.” I’m sure if they would release their donor list we would find the names of some of Michigan’s billionaires, whose own wealth increased 22% last year.
Sure, executive pay is out of control everywhere, including in the non-profit sector. Last year we learned that the President of the Susan G. Komen Foundation received a 64% raise and made $684,000! Closer to home, I recently learned that Michigan High School Athletic Association President John “Jack” Roberts makes $251,109 from educational athletics! Clearly, we need to reform what it means to be “non-profit.”
If, I say if, Michigan Education Association Executives took home big raises last year, then I’m disappointed in their leadership. Yet, I’m wise enough to know better than to take the Mackinac Center’s word for it. Since their inception, they have taken to undermining public schools, teachers, and workers of all kinds. They are a propaganda machine for conservative millionaires and billionaires whose main goals are to profitize everything, pay as little tax as possible, and to destroy any organized opposition to their way of life (i.e. unions). As long as our “free press” does as bad a job of reporting as the Free Press did in this instance, the Mackinac Center will continue to make progress for the millionaires and billionaires behind the dark money curtain.