BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Days after Battle Creek Public Schools announced the start of a scholarship program that can pay for all of graduates’ college, the district made another major announcement investing in teachers.

BCPS this week announced a $10,000 yearly raise in salaries for all teachers based on a two-year structure agreed upon by district administrators and the teachers union, the Battle Creek Education Association.

With the raise, teachers will make an average of $68,300 with starting pay at $50,000, which is higher than the state ($38,963) and national averages ($42,844). The increase, which goes into effect in the 2023-2024 school year, makes BCPS teachers some of the highest paid in Southwest Michigan.

Superintendent Kim Carter explained the pay increase is separate and unrelated to the Bearcat Advantage scholarship program, which is supported by grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. She said fiscal responsibility with the district’s general fund led it to reallocate money to teacher salaries.

“It’s right-sizing the district at a point now where … our expenses are not exceeding our revenue. So when we received increased state aid, we decided that we were going to invest that increase in teacher compensation,” Carter said.

She said the district had $2 million left over after having its first increase in enrollment in more than a decade.

Battle Creek Education Association President Anthony Pennock calls the events leading up to the pay increase a ‘perfect storm.’

“It’s not just the leveling off in enrollment and increase of enrollment last year, which has allowed for an increase in general fund revenue from the state, but it’s also been the historic investments by the governor’s budgets,” he said.

“All of those things working together created the perfect opportunity for us to actually reap the rewards for teachers,” Carter added.

The new payment structure implementing the $10,000 raise also has an annual 1% to 2% bump adjustment through 2025. When the proposal was brought up to a vote by BCEA members, Pennock said, 95% were in favor of it.

“This really allows us to focus on what we know is best … for our kids without worrying about our own kids and families at home,” Pennock said. “To realize that change has been able to come to the financial health in the district and the student enrollment has allowed us to make a giant leap all at once to make this change. It’s very exciting.”

Battle Creek Central High art teacher Oz Rinckey said news of the raise gave him peace of mind. He said he and his wife now have a more level playing field in choosing when to retire and what to do with the extra money.

“Having the pay reflect the work and dedication it takes to be a teacher is important,” Rinckey said. “We have the flexibility to decide, ‘Maybe I do want to retire on time’, or ‘Maybe I do want to stay a couple more years,’ or ‘Maybe we don’t have to worry about that and now we can focus on paying off our house faster’ — those kinds of things.”

At Dudley STEM School, first grade teacher Elizebeth Rach said the pay bump gives her the chance to make a memory with her daughter by taking on a cruise for her senior experience.

“We’ve had struggles for a long time, finally getting to where we want to be just as a family unit and being able to get further our savings and helping her through college and helping her with her goals in the future,” Rach said.

While the salary increase applies to all teachers, Carter said the district will look at raising wages for other staff in the near future.

“As we continue to increase enrollment and we increase revenue, we’re definitely going to increase compensation for all of our other roles as well,” she said.