DOE Response to Average Teacher Salary Issues

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

My article on average teacher salaries must have struck a nerve. This morning I received an answer to my inquiry from the Department of Education (DOE).

In short, DOE disavows any responsibility for the accuracy of the data in the report it submitted to the General Assembly.

The Office of Communications declares, “All data in the teacher salary survey report is based on data certified by school division superintendents. VDOE staff tries to identify as many of the variances as possible and obtain corrections from school divisions within the time-frame available each fall.”

The reply did answer one of my questions. “The report is related to salaries only. Fringe benefits are not included.”

As for the discrepancies involving Henrico and Greensville counties, “you’ll need to ask the counties directly how they came to those numbers.”

This is unacceptable. The users of reports by state agencies, be they from the media, the General Assembly, or the general public, have a reasonable expectation that those reports are accurate. Otherwise, public policy will be developed in a vacuum or under faulty assumptions.

I understand the time crunch. It is difficult to prepare a report to be delivered by the first day that the General Assembly convenes, especially when the report is dependent on data supplied by more than 100 school divisions. However, there are two possible simple solutions to this dilemma:

  1. Build in a time lag. There is nothing in the language requiring the preparation of this report that mandates it include salary averages from the most recently concluded school year, as well as the current one. It is not uncommon for government reports to include data that has a lag of a fiscal year or more due to the time involved in collecting the data and verifying it. (See the latest annual report of the Chief Medical Examiner, issued in July 2023 and the FY 2021 Jail Cost Report, issued by the Compensation Board in November 2022.) It is better to have accurate data that is a year or more old than current data that is inaccurate. Under such a scenario, the report submitted to the 2024 General Assembly would show average salary data for the 2021-2022 school year. DOE could adopt this approach on its own initiative.
  2. Move the reporting date. Instead of having the report due on the first day the General Assembly convenes, have it due on or before July 1 of that year and include data from the previous school year. Under such a scenario, the report submitted by July 1, 2024, would have average salary data for the school year 2022-23. The General Assembly would need to approve the new reporting date. However, that reporting timeline is included in the annual Appropriation Act. The Governor could include a reporting date of July 1 in the budget bill he presents to the General Assembly in December. I doubt that the General Assembly would object, if they notice the change at all.

In either scenario, the report should not include a “budgeted average teacher salary” for the current school year. There is too much variation in how that amount is calculated.

Of the two alternatives, the second is preferable. In the chaos of a General Assembly session, the legislators and staff are not likely to notice such a report and certainly will not have enough time to digest it. With a July 1 reporting date, DOE staff would have more time to collect verify, and correct the data and produce a report that has less of a time lag than if it had to be submitted in January.

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15 responses to “DOE Response to Average Teacher Salary Issues”

  1. That’s why I suggested you contact the counties directly. It’s been my experience, if I want an answer on a discrepancy, I had to go to the superintendent’s office. Not that it’s right, but it’s how it is. And even then, there’s no guarantee they’ll have the right answer!

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I was not interested so much in the average salary for those specific counties. I needed to know the statewide average teacher salary. Knowing the correct number for Henrico or Greensville would not have helped in that regard. I pointed them out as examples of why I could not trust the statewide average teacher salary set out in the report.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Increase the tax rebate, reduce state taxes.

    The best way to put out a dumpster fire is to starve it of fuel.

  3. VaPragamtist Avatar

    Excellent work, Dick. If the GA requires the DOE to issue this report, its DOE’s responsibility to ensure its accuracy.

    If I’m not mistaken, as part of their audits of state agencies APA ensures that required reports are at least submitted to the GA. You might want to let them know about this.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      It was submitted, so the APA will check that box.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “Not my yob!”

  5. Anyone who has ever worked in a large organization should be able to recognize that the report is something that is required by law or regulation but that no one cares about or every uses for anything. Thus, it is assembled by low level staffers and forwarded to be filed away and forgotten.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      Did you get the memo about the new TPS report cover sheet?

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Have you seen my red stapler lately?

  6. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    “….a reasonable expectation that those reports are accurate. Otherwise, public policy will be developed in a vacuum or under faulty assumptions.” Sorry, my side is splitting with laughter. If they wanted accurate data, they would outline the parameters, give instructions on whether they wanted salary alone, salary + benefits, and if so which benefits. The W-2 income, gross salary, is in everybody’s accounting software and running report on that could not be easier. Range, median and mean in one swoop, by job class. This particular bureaucratic establishment has long thrived on obscurity and confusion — which is why “national average teacher salary” is another way to get a laugh out of me.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I have to wonder, what other data from the VDOE is faulty? Calling Glenn Y. Are you receiving? Taxpayers fork over an arm, a leg, and hoof for education. We want the real data!

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      “You can’t handle the truth.” To borrow a phrase. 🙂

  8. Matt Hurt Avatar
    Matt Hurt

    I imagine that the only way to ensure 100% accuracy is with a unified state data system that ties finance, student information systems and everything else together. Then the state report can pull directly from the point of truth without any human interaction necessary at the division level.

    Currently, there are multiple folks in 131 public school divisions that are expending many hours compiling and submitting state reports. Folks do the best they have with what they have to work with, but there are lots of opportunities for things to go awry. There is human error in entering or calculating data. There is error introduced when trying to interpret state directions for submitting data.

    There are so many differences among divisions, and so few employees at VDOE, that it is unreasonable for every possible anomaly in the data to be verified. The folks at VDOE don’t have access to the raw data, they have to rely on the folks in the divisions who do. As we have seem many times, this process does not yield 100% reliable data, nor does it have the capacity to do so.

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