Lies, Fucking Lies, and Statistics at the Virginia Department of Education – Average Teacher Salary Edition

by James C. Sherlock

I was at the beginning of researching a column on school salaries in Virginia when I came across another bad report.

In Special Session I of 2021, the General Assembly directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide a report on the status of staff salaries, by local school division, to the Governor and the Chairs of the Finance Committees and Senate appropriations and House appropriations.

Credit committees wanted to know how much teachers and others were paid so they could increase the state contribution. This appears to be a report that VDOE would like to correct.

As with many other reports I have documented, the January payroll report, on its face, cannot perhaps be correct. VDOE and thus the governor and the general assembly have no idea how much teachers and other teaching staff are paid in Virginia.

This report was a parting gift from the Northam administration.

The question itself – average wages – may not provide useful information for legislation and appropriations, no matter how accurately it is answered.

Currently, the House and Senate are at odds over whether school salaries get a 4% or 5% increase from the state. Those are at all levels increases, not targeted at specific types of teacher certification that are badly needed. Why? Maybe because, as I documented earlier, the teacher shortage data from the VDOE is also useless.

So, it seems that these ubiquitous rankings of teacher salaries across states are also in error.

More importantly, any attempt to compare school salaries in various Virginia jurisdictions is doomed to failure. The same goes for any effort to compare salaries to the cost of living in each jurisdiction.

It is as important as the wages themselves.

Finally, if the elected officials of the 132 school divisions use this data, they will not know if and how much to raise local contributions, particularly in any attempt to equalize wages in adjacent jurisdictions.

I would say it can’t go on like this, but it can – and it did. And that’s really important.

But there are encouraging signs.

The report was sent to the General Assembly on January 12 of this year by Rosa Atkins, Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction, in the final days of the Northam administration. He is intitulated “2020-2021 Teacher Salary Survey Results» dated January 4, 2022.

The source of the problem. The fundamental problem seems to be that Ministry of Education staff prepared the report based on the Annual School Report (ASR) spent data submitted by each school division and regional program.

From the report:

Ministry of Education staff prepared the report based on Annual School Report (AAR) expenses data submitted by each school division and regional program. State-wide and school division salary averages were calculated for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. The report presents salary information for fiscal years 2020, 2021, and 2022 for comparison. The year-over-year percentage change in salary averages is shown for state-wide and division-wide data.” (Emphasis added).

If anyone had actually looked at the results of these calculations, they would have seen that they were fatally wrong. Maybe this process should have worked if the input data was correct, but it didn’t because it wasn’t.

Reasonableness test failed. Some examples of report data where the first year is FY 20 to 21 and the second year is FY21 to 22.

Teacher salaries:

  • Essex County Public Schools showed a decrease wages of 15.93% in second year.
  • Greensville County showed a wage increase 8.82% the year one and the other 23.28% increase in second year.
  • Isle of Wight County showed a decrease 19.14% in second year.
  • Middlesex County showed a 43.84% increase in second year.
  • Prince Edward County is displayed with data Empty after fiscal year 2020.
  • Public schools in the city of Buena Vista are depicted with a decrease 12.96% in the first year and another drop 15.99% in second year.
  • Norfolk schools showed a decrease 15.77% in second year.
  • Governor’s Schools Display Huge oscillations in average salaries, with some exceeding 20% ​​year-on-year.
  • The Piedmont regional education program has shown a 155.3% increase in second-year average wages.
  • Three of the regional alternative education programs showed increased more than 100% in second-year average wages.

Salaries of other teaching staff:

  • Brunswick County is shown descending the salaries of his Deputy Directors 60% the first year.
  • The county of Middlesex is pictured increasing the salaries of its APs by 43.8% the second year.

What to do? So what about the rest of the data? What is the purpose of the overall averages calculated from this data by the VDOE and communicated to the General Assembly? The answer is “none”.

I don’t know what plan B should be for determining average salaries, but using this ASR budget spend data to calculate them will only work if divisions submit better baseline data.

And even the correct answers won’t provide much information because they leave out differences due to the effects of time in service and graduate degrees on pay scales.

Maybe the question needs to be rephrased or some other data needs to be used as a reference. Or perhaps the question itself – average salaries – is not one of the answers that will be useful in the appropriations process or any other form of decision-making.

Anyway, I have three observations:

  • VDOE staff members should never have accepted these numbers at face value, let alone averaged them out and prepared a report for the Governor and the General Assembly.
  • The Secretary of Public Instruction should never have signed it.
  • The General Assembly should have returned it for correction.

The Youngkin administration is the unfortunate heir to this long-term cancer on public school policy.

Good news.

Yesterday I received, unsolicited, a personal note from the highest levels of the VDOE. In this document, my correspondent recognized the problem presented in my columns and promised that the management of the VDOE would take care of solving it.

I received a similar memo from Richmond Public Schools acknowledging their own issues with data reporting. They promised not only to fix the problem in the future, but also to go back and correct the vacancy report that I recently published.

It is a very encouraging sign that the VDOE and the RPS recognize these issues because, as we see above with the average salary reports that have been sent to the Appropriations Committees, they matter a lot.

But there are 131 other divisions, some of which take their reports seriously and others clearly not. Nothing new there.

It will be hard work.

But the thanks represent a breakthrough, and the citizens of Virginia thank VDOE and RPS for it.