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.