Teacher Salaries. This is the bulk of the costs in education. As it should be. Teachers are the lifeblood of a child’s education. The funding for teachers should always be the highest cost for any school, whether it is in a district school or a charter school. With that being said, below are what our districts and charter schools pay for teachers. But as with the article on overall spending, it is all in relation to how many students a district or charter has. There are several opinions that can be drawn from these pictures, but as with all these articles, the percentage of high-needs students can play a huge factor, especially when it comes to special education. But we can see, based on the numbers, that having too many new teachers may save money in the short-term but it doesn’t bode well for students.
With this article, we have the first charter schools to suffer from what I call BAP: Bad Accounting Practices. Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Prep are not included in this because it would be impossible to figure out their teacher salaries. For the sole reason that they put ALL their salaries under a code of “General Salaries”. There is no breakdown of teacher, principal, head of school, secretaries, and so forth. I know their authorizer, Red Clay, has approached them about this with absolutely no change whatsoever. And Del. Military Academy already had a run-in with the State Auditor a few years back over personal spending. Del. College Prep had their charter revoked by the Red Clay board and closed at the end of June.
Before you react to the first picture, I would like to remind everyone that the number of students in each district is the biggest factor in all of this. Some district and charter accounting gurus may look at these and think I have all my numbers wrong. If they are looking at just the state code that falls under teacher salaries, most of them would be right. But for the purposes of this article and to get a true understanding of how teachers are paid overall in our districts and charters, I added the following together to come up with the teacher salaries: teacher salaries, academic excellence (essentially a bonus for some teachers), what are known as Extra Pay for Extra Responsibility categories (Sports, Extra-Curricular, and Misc.), Visiting Teachers, and the three Related Services for special education that only about half the districts use for special education teachers (Basic, Intensive, and Complex). There is absolutely no way to determine how many teachers are tenured or have more experience at each district or charter. But these are straight-out salaries and do not include benefits or pensions. That will come soon, but there is a specific reason why I am not including this with the regular salaries. As well, based on this information, there is no way to calculate how many teachers are in each district or charter.
For the most part, district teacher salaries fall in line with how many students are in each district, with only some slight variances between a few districts, and nothing that put them more than one spot ahead or below another district. Christina cut a lot of teachers after their referenda from FY2015 failed. So their numbers could be higher next year since their referendum did pass this year and they restored most of the teaching positions. Not every district has “academic excellence” bonus money they give to teachers. A lot of these funds come from grants based on AP and advanced classes. Districts that did not give any funds to teachers for “academic excellence” are Caesar Rodney, Colonial, Indian River, Laurel, Seaford, Woodbridge and Sussex Tech. Brandywine and Appoquinimink led the pack with these bonuses, with $3.1 and $2.6 million given to teachers in each district. Christina only had $784 in academic excellence, which leads me to believe something was either miscoded or carried over from the prior year.
With almost twice the amount of students as Odyssey, it would stand to reason that Newark Charter School would be number one on this graph. We do see more variances among the charters for teacher spending than exists for the districts. Charter school teachers in Delaware are not part of teacher unions so collective bargaining does not play a role in their salary negotiations. What concerns me the most are Freire and Great Oaks which I will go into more detail a bit later. All of the charter schools that just opened a little less than a year ago came in last for teacher salaries. Newer charters tend to get less experienced teachers who are new to the profession. This can cause severe growing pains for new charters. In fact, out of the seven charters that opened in the past few years, all are in the bottom half when it comes to teacher salaries.
This is where the pictures change drastically. New Castle County Vo-Tech takes the number one spot. Followed by a district in Sussex County. The top two districts for teacher spending overall, Red Clay and Christina, come in 6th and 8th on this based on the teacher salaries divided by the number of students in the district. Once again, there is a very direct correlation between how vo-techs are funded and how much they are able to spend. By not relying on referenda and worrying about local funding, they experience much more freedom than traditional school districts. It must be nice to be a line item on the state budget!
With charters, we see a vast amount of difference between teacher salaries divided by the number of students in each school. For schools that have been around for a long time, like Thomas Edison, Academy of Dover, and Family Foundations, they have very low teacher salaries per student. Especially since they serve some high-need populations. Either they are paying too little in teacher salaries, there is high turnover, or a combination of both. On the flip side, how Prestige Academy has the highest teacher salary per student amount in the state, at $6,544 baffles me. My guess, which will come up in future articles, is they are putting other salaries in with teacher salaries. Another BAP at play. Freire, at $1573 a student, and Great Oaks, at an incredibly low $1175 a student, is almost unbelievable. Either they are miscoding salaries or they do not have enough certified teachers. Are they utilizing programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School too much? Those programs have very high turnover compared to regular teachers. These are also high schools, which makes me worried about the post-graduate outcomes of these students. And no, I don’t mean based on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores. Not many charters give “academic excellence” funds to teachers. Only Newark Charter School and Campus Community do this in larger amounts, while Positive Outcomes and Kuumba do this in very low amounts.
In this last graph, I took the teacher salaries divided by the student count for each charter or district and then divided that by the total per student count. Sadly, the percentage of cost per student going towards teacher salaries appears to be 7% for Great Oaks. I would say any charter or district below 25% is not good. If at least a quarter of spending in schools isn’t going towards teachers, there are most likely some issues. By the same token, if the amount is too high, like with the four charters at the top, something probably isn’t being coded right in the state accounting system.
Once again, I will reiterate that these amounts are based on expenditures by particular accounting codes during FY2016 for Delaware school districts and charter schools as reported by the state. This information is put into the Delaware accounting system by each district or charter school. In certain situations, I can only surmise what might be going on. They are supposed to follow certain codes, but none of them do it by the book. And with little or no oversight by our state, they get away with it. I believe in local control, but there are certain things, in the name of transparency and best practices, that dictate a uniformity, and education spending is at the top of that list!