J.H. Snider’s presentation before the
Maryland State Department of Education’s Board of Education,
Nancy S. Grasmick State Education Building,
200 West Baltimore Street, 7th Floor Board Room, Baltimore, MD,
January 24, 2017
My name is J.H. Snider, and I am the president of iSolon.org. I am a former school board member and have published dozens of op-eds on education politics and policy in publications including Education Week, The Washington Post, and U.S.A. Today.
I am here today to report on the findings from my two sets of Public Information Act requests seeking the methodology used to calculate K12 salary statistics. The first involves my local public school system in Anne Arundel County; the second the Maryland State Department of Education.
My basic findings concerning MSDE are:
- MSDE does not collect disaggregate salary data from local school districts,
- MSDE lacks a detailed methodology for aggregating those salary data into average salary statistics, instead leaving that methodology to the discretion of local school districts,
- MSDE does not enforce what limited guidelines it does have,
- MSDE does not check for consistency in the methodologies used both across and within local school districts in calculating salary statistics, even when anomalies are brought to its attention;
- MSDE bases its maximum salary statistic for teachers not on actual salaries but on the salary schedule, which in my county may represent only about two-thirds of actual salary,
- To explain the statistics it reports to the public, MSDE refers requesters to Maryland’s 25 local districts, where requesters must submit Public Information Act requests for the information,
- MSDE makes numerous controversial assumptions in the presentation of its salary statistics but fails to disclose them in its published reports.
My basic findings concerning the Anne Arundel County Public Schools are:
- Starting in 2008, AACPS has consistently failed to comply with both the spirit and letter of the Public Information Act concerning public access to salary data,
- In response to my Public Information Act requests, AACPS has complained to thousands of its employees and the Maryland General Assembly that this information is legally public,
- AACPS techniques for avoiding compliance with the law have varied substantially over time and tend to be quite sophisticated,
- AACPS has failed to provide the salary information that MSDE asserted local Maryland school districts would provide in response to my various Public Information Act requests to MSDE,
- In response to the Public Information Act request I submitted to AACPS in response to MSDE’s guidance that I seek this information locally, AACPS asserted that it had fulfilled my request despite almost completely ignoring my actual requests and justifying its assertion by providing me MSDE’s ambiguous guidance that I already included in my Public Information Act request.
Citizens should not have to endure such hardships in seeking K12 compensation data. Employee compensation represents more than 80% of local school budgets and the public should not only have the right to access this information, but access it in a way that it is meaningfully public.
This distinction between salary data being public and meaningfully public is critical. In Maryland, at least 50% of employee compensation data is public and few politicians would dare to argue publicly that it shouldn’t be. But as my Public Information Act requests with AACPS and MSDE demonstrate, it has often not been meaningfully public.
My specific recommendations to you are:
- MSDE should publish all raw salary data online in a machine-readable format and with consistent methodological assumptions across all local school districts,
- MSDE should explicitly disclose its methodology, including all the types of compensation data excluded from public disclosure, and
- MSDE should disclose its reasons for making salary data pro-actively public, including:
- the % of employee compensation in school budgets and its centrality to the budget process,
- the Public Information Act’s unenforceability and failure to work in this area, and
- the extraordinary public difficulty, cost, and risks associated with acquiring this information without pro-active government disclosure.
On the risks, I will elaborate. When I first sought maximum salary data in 2008, the AACPS Public Information Officer complained to the Maryland General Assembly that this information was public and complained of my request for this information in an email sent to thousands of AACPS employees, including my children’s teachers. That proved to be very intimidating, an experience that no citizen in pursuit of this information should ever have to endure.
None of these recommendations requires that the General Assembly pass a special law. Indeed, it is entirely within your power to implement them, assuming you could get the local school districts to provide the raw data that is legally public and they are legally obliged to provide. Such an action would require political courage. As you contemplate it, please remember that very few if any Maryland politicians would dare to say publicly that government salary related data shouldn’t be public. If there is a good reason for that, there is a good reason for pro-active public disclosure.
Primary Supporting Documents
Complaint filed with Maryland’s Public Information Act Ombudsman, May 2, 2017. Response: MSDE claimed that its K12 salary data is exempt from public disclosure.