Doesn’t Anyone Read These Things To See If They Make Sense?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In preparing my recent article on tax cuts, I was going to include a section on the need for increases in teacher salaries. In researching the issue, I discovered that the Department of Education (DOE) submits to the General Assembly a survey of teacher salaries in Virginia.

I was delighted because that was exactly the type of data I needed. However, as I went through the numbers, I came to the conclusion that I could not use them. There were so many anomalies that I could not trust the numbers.

The first one that really caught my eye was Henrico County. The average teacher salary in FY2021 was $52,687 and in FY 2022, $56,251. But, for FY 2023, the “budgeted average teacher salary” was $90,621, a 61.1% increase over FY 2022!  “Whoa,” I thought. “That can’t be right. If Henrico teachers had gotten a 60% raise, I’m sure I would have heard about it.” To make it even more confusing, in another section which compiled the local school division’s comments on actions taken in FY 2023, Henrico reported, “No action taken to improve teachers’ salaries.”

Struck by this screwy data, I looked at the data for other localities. That for Greensville County was even more of a mess. According to the report, the FY 2021 average teacher’s salary was $54,932. In FY 2022, it decreased by 29.9% to $38,501, but the budgeted average teacher salary in FY 2023 rebounded by 84.7% to $71,105. There were similar inconsistencies in the entries for a large number of school divisions.

Thinking that there must be a reasonable explanation for this data that looked all wrong, I contacted the Department of Education’s Office of Communications. That office is without a director now (I was told that Charles Pyle, the former director, had retired) and I was instructed to send my inquiry to a generic e-mail address. I got this standard reply:

Thank you for contacting us regarding issues related to our students and education in the Commonwealth. Given the volume of requests for information received each day by our office, we will process your request for information as soon as possible.

That was on Sept. 13, two weeks ago. I am still waiting for an answer. In contrast, when I sent a request to Charles Pyle for some information on Jan. 16 of this year, he replied on Jan. 20. And that was during the General Assembly session, probably his busiest time.

This is an official report to the General Assembly.  It is relied on by the media, interest groups, and, presumably, the General Assembly and its staff. Average teacher salaries is a topic that is in the forefront of the discussion of K-12. Every effort should be made to ensure that the data in this report are correct and, if there are significant anomalies, they need to be explained. One could understand a transposed number here and there, but these unexplained inconsistent entries are inexcusable. Finally, when someone from a blog on public policy issues in Virginia calls attention to what seem to be significant errors, one would think that it would be a good idea to pay attention.