A human resources consultant told the Albemarle County School Board last week that the salaries of the county’s teachers fared well in comparison to some of Virginia’s highest-performing school divisions.
The study also identified areas for improvement related to the selection of peer communities for salary comparisons and the amounts paid in stipends for work outside the classroom.
Andy Klein, principal at Gallagher and Co., presented his findings to the School Board on June 8.
“There was a lot of angst in the [teacher] focus group, in the survey information, that [said]: ‘We work so much more than everybody else, for the dollars we get paid.’ And we didn’t find that to be true.”
The pay scale for county teachers increases one step each year for 31 years. In 2016-2017, salaries of county teachers with a bachelor’s degree ranged from $45,400 in the first year of teaching to $68,000 after 31 years.
Only 6.5 percent of teachers who completed the survey felt that they received adequate compensation for their work. Sixty-five percent reported working an additional job to supplement their income.
Klein said some Albemarle teachers in a focus group were unable to afford a home in the county, and had told him stories that “were hard to listen to.”
However, Klein said public school teachers were underpaid almost everywhere in the U.S. “I’m sad to say... this study can’t fix that,” he said. “But we can give you some perspective.”
Albemarle currently compares its teacher salaries to a competitive market of 26 school divisions in surrounding counties and other municipalities from throughout Virginia. Salaries are targeted for the 75th percentile of this market across the pay scale.
Gallagher & Co. recommended adopting a smaller competitive market of Virginia school districts considered to be of high quality.
“The performance mattered the most,” Klein said. “That was the selection factor that we used to pick the comparators. It is about recruiting teachers, and keeping them to give you the kind of high performance this division is used to providing.”
Gallagher & Co. selected eight of the Virginia school divisions rated highest by Niche, an educational ranking and review website.
Niche calculates its rankings with data from the US Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics and online surveys of parents and students on Niche.com. State standardized tests, Advanced Placement exam results and self-reported ACT and SAT scores factor heavily in the rankings.
Gallagher & Co. compared Albemarle— ranked fifth in the state by Niche— to Arlington, Fairfax County, Goochland County, Loudon County, Roanoke County, City of Salem, City of Virginia Beach, and York County.
Falls Church City, ranked second in Virginia, was omitted from the comparison due to its small size and a lack of available data, Klein said.
Loudon, Roanoke, Virginia Beach are included in the current competitive market. Arlington, Fairfax, and Goochland have higher costs of living and labor than most divisions in the current market.
After adjusting for average cost of labor in each municipality, Gallagher & Co. found that the starting daily rate for Albemarle teachers with a bachelor’s degree was higher than any division in the proposed competitive market except Virginia Beach.
An Albemarle teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 25 years of experience had a daily rate of $312.37, while Fairfax’s adjusted rate for the same employee was $399.75.
Gallagher & Co. found that Albemarle’s stipends for additional responsibilities, like serving as the head of an academic department or yearbook advisor, also lagged behind in the performance-based market.
“If I were sitting in your chair, I would say this is a focus for what might be actionable in the short term, because the cost consequences are not as much as moving salaries around,” Klein said.
Acuff and other members of the School Board suggested adding Charlottesville City Schools to a future market comparison, even though it only placed 17th in Niche’s latest rankings of Virginia school districts.
“[Charlottesville] snatches teachers from us all the time,” Acuff said.
“It seems that we are not in as bad shape as we might think,” said School Board member Pam Moynihan. “What is the best way to communicate that [to teachers]?”
The School Board has received hundreds of letters from teachers in the past year asking for the school division to reexamine its pay scale and the competitive market, Acuff said.
Mark Crockett, a retired Western Albemarle High School teacher, said the current competitive market, adopted in 2000, drives down salaries by including many cities and counties that are poorer than Albemarle. “The county has been balancing its budget on the backs of teachers,” Crockett said.
The Virginia Department of Education’s Composite Index formula measures a municipality’s ability to pay education costs based on the true value of its real property, adjusted gross income and taxable retail sales.
Albemarle’s index – 0.6394 out of a maximum 0.800— is higher than all but two localities in the school division’s adopted competitive market: Charlottesville and Williamsburg. The average composite index of localities in the competitive market is 0.432.
Many school officials and advocates for higher teacher salaries say Albemarle’s ability to pay ranking doesn’t tell the full story. Three state and local policies reduce overall revenues that could be allocated to education needs, including salaries.
Second Albemarle’s land use taxation program – intended to promote conservation of rural land for agriculture, forestry and open space -- reduces the real estate property taxes collected locally. Third, Albemarle has a revenue sharing agreement with the City of Charlottesville.
Crockett said Gallagher & Co.’s recommendations did little to address “the inherent inequities built into the market.”
Acuff said division staff are examining the budgetary impacts of adopting the performance-based market. The Board expects to receive a finalized report on teacher compensation by late August.
In an open letter to teachers, Acuff said the school division would target its salaries for the median of the proposed market.