A decision to post teacher salaries on the Internet has irked the teachers union in West Virginia, but an experienced reformer said such policies are needed to expose the current education system’s ineffectiveness.
In February, the Kanawha County Schools Board of Education adopted a plan to post all employee salaries on its official Web site for public inspection. The policy change was introduced by board member Pete Thaw and approved unanimously by the five-member body.
At press time, Kanawha County appeared to be the only school district in West Virginia with the Internet-posting policy. But the decision was a logical one for district leaders, they say.
“School system salaries are a matter of public record. Anyone can view the salaries upon request,” said Superintendent Ron Duerring. “We just decided to do it at the request of a board member since it was public information.”
West Virginia law requires county boards of education to publish annually the names and amounts paid to “all school personnel by the board.” Local residents are entitled to view the records upon request.
The policy change for Kanawha County Schools, the largest public school district in West Virginia, followed the practice of other nearby government bodies. The Kanawha County Commission posts its employees’ salary information on the Web, and the state auditor’s office unveiled its online database in February.
Though the state’s information was already available by request, the change improved access to it and eliminated the need to print a 20-pound paper report. It also came as a revelation to many whose names and annual earnings are now displayed on the Internet.
“Some folks who work for the state didn’t know their information was public already,” said Justin Southern, spokesman for the state auditor. “Three days after it was put online, we had a million hits. Obviously, there’s been quite a bit of interest.”
A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) said the practice has been troubling for state employees, and Kanawha County teachers are not comfortable with it, either.
“For teachers, this is just a nuisance. But nobody likes to see their salaries published on a Web site.” said Kym Randolph, director of communications. “It’s different if it’s an anonymous scale.”
The West Virginia Department of Education posts online the salary schedule for every county in the state. Knowing a teacher’s years of experience and how many academic degrees he or she holds can give an observer a fairly accurate idea of an individual’s actual salary.
Randolph said both the WVEA and the local Kanawha County Education Association made presentations before the school board to register their protests, to no avail, but downplayed the significance of the posting.
“I think it’s an issue that still will arise on occasion, but it’s not like salaries are super-secret,” Randolph said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a big rush to see that changed.”
Entrepreneur Jack Roeser has pioneered and honed the work of posting teacher salary information on the Internet. His Champion Foundation Web site has chronicled public education employee payouts in Illinois since 1999.
Roeser launched the project after a telephone conversation with a Chicago reporter who quoted to him incorrect teacher salary figures provided by school district officials. Having collected the data from the Illinois Department of Education for many years, Roeser decided in 1999 to give the information a bigger platform.
In 2006, more than a million unique visitors searched the Champion database for Illinois public schools employee salary information.
“It’s building a grassroots following. People in districts around the state have picked up their fights,” Roeser said.
Roeser believes his project has lifted the fog of confusion and misinformation surrounding public educators’ compensation. The site shows the average 2006 employee salary exceeded $60,000 in more than 100 Illinois school districts. In nine districts, the average salary was greater than $80,000, excluding fringe benefits.
“It’s exposed the myths that teachers are paid poorly,” Roeser said.
Different Salary Trends
WVEA officials point to a different trend in their state. National Education Association (NEA) statistics show West Virginia has fallen from 30th to 46th in the nation in average teacher salary, at $39,897 in 2004-05. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia’s average pay to all workers ranked 50th out of 51, including the District of Columbia, at $35,467 per year for 2004-05, the most recent year for which statistics were available. Only Mississippi’s pay was lower.
In March, more than 5,000 teachers picketed West Virginia’s state capitol to demand legislators raise statewide minimum compensation.
“Obviously, our salaries are moving in the wrong direction,” said Randolph.
The NEA places Illinois at the other end of the spectrum, with the nation’s fourth-highest average teacher salaries at $57,989.
Using the hard numbers has enhanced the Champion Foundation’s credibility.
“The easiest argument to win is where you’re mathematically correct,” Roeser said.
Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.
For more information …
Kanawha County Schools employee salary information, http://kcs.kana.k12.wv.us/empinfo/empsalary.html
The Champion Foundation, http://www.thechampion.org