Should Teacher Salaries be Public Information?

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Should Teacher Salaries be Public Information?
Public school teachers are considered public servants – but does that make their salary details public information? Learn about the heated debate surrounding whether teacher salaries should be made public.

No one would argue that teachers work hard for their money, but there is certainly debate over just how much money that should be. In some cases, the general public does not believe teachers get paid enough for the important work that they do. Others believe that shorter hours and longer vacation times should translate to lower pay than the average teaching professional receives.

At the center of this debate is the question over whether teacher salaries should be a matter of public record. Should tax payers who foot the bill for teachers' salaries know exactly where their money is going?

Those in Favor

On the one hand, teachers are classified as public employees, which means information like salary should be a matter of public record. Because these salaries are paid using taxpayer money, the public has the right to know how the money is being used.

When voters are armed with this information, they are in a better position to influence decisions in the voting booth during election season. When taxpayers know the full scope of what teachers in their districts make, they are better equipped to ask the right questions about the direction of public education and determine whether changes to the current status quo are justified.

Those Opposed

On the other hand, teachers protest that their specific salaries are private information that should be kept away from public scrutiny. Some argue that publishing salary information about individual teachers on school or state government websites exposes lower-paid employees unnecessarily, and it may even put some individuals in danger when personal information is made public.

Opponents add that simply posting salary numbers does not offer an accurate analysis of why some teachers make more than others. For example, salaries may fluctuate based on tenure, years of experience or level of education, which is often not included in posted salary figures.

Despite the debate over publicizing teacher salaries, many school districts are now offering that information through their websites, state government websites or other publications. We have examples of some of the school districts grappling with this decision and how they have handled the situation thus far.

Pennsylvania Salaries Now Posted

The Pennsylvania Department of Education gathers salary information from across the state and posts it online and through print publications. According to the York Daily Record, the information has been used by the Asbury Park Press, as well as the Commonwealth Foundation, a research and education group in Harrisburg that posts a variety of school financial information. Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation told the York Daily Record that the public has a right to this information, and they have made the data more accessible than it has been in the past.

However, Myra Reichart of the Pennsylvania State Education Association told the Record that posting information like this without an accurate analysis included can be misleading. Reichart said, "You can make a number appear to be anything you want it to be. When a person just looks at that number, what they're saying is, 'Oh my God this person makes so much money for teaching kids.' But they don't have any idea how that number was arrived at."

Orange County Numbers Published

The Orange County Register has been working on an editorial project that posts salary information for all the public school teachers in the county. However, many professional educators are more than a little uncomfortable with the request, and some have been downright resistant in providing the information that is considered a matter of public record. According to OC Weekly, the Huntington Beach Union High School District was the last in the county to agree to release the information and only did so after notifying staff that the information could be made public.

William Diepenbrock, the education editor for the Register, has said that the information was needed for a story comparing the salaries of educators from 2004 to 2010. Diepenbrock said that he will not publish the lowest salaries in the district, and anyone with a potentially life-threatening situation should contact him prior to publication. Because Diepenbrock was fully within his legal rights in requesting the information, the school district was required to provide it. Salaries for public employees in California, including public school teachers, are also posted on the website for the California State Controller's Office.

Teachers may be considered public servants, but many do not like the idea of salary information becoming a matter of public record. However, as long as taxpayer dollars go to pay these salaries, the debate over publicizing teacher salaries will continue to rage.

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