Why we still don't know the real story about Baltimore City school system salaries
Today, The Sun published a database with the salary and overtime for every school system employee--by name and job title--dating back to 2008. It's part of a series of databases that we will be compiling on public employee pay in the city. So far, we have published the same information for employees who work for the state, the Baltimore City government, and the Baltimore County School System.More school districts will join the bunch in the coming months.
However, the Baltimore City school system salaries that you see only tell part of the story about how much system employees make--particularly administrators at North Avenue, whose salaries can shift more than school-based personnel. While teachers and principals' pay are reflected in a scale that is published on the Maryland State Department of Education website with every other district, administrative positions are more arbitrary.
I feel compelled to offer a glimpse into a rather tortured journey to transparency in obtaining this information--and why the public still doesn't really know what they're paying the stewards of the city's public education system, and the $1.3 billion budget it takes to run it.
The journey began when The Sun requested the school system's salaries--normally, the most basic public information request you can make, and the most readily available--on Nov. 16.
After blowing the 30-day response deadline outlined by the Maryland Public Information Act--a law--by nearly three weeks, the city school system produced inconsistent, and incomplete data.
And more importantly, they had "interpreted" our request as one for negotiated salaries--which would show us what employees are supposed to make--rather than earnings, which would show us what the system actually paid out. And this information wasn't offered. I thought to ask as I started combing through the data, and finding some red flags.
Because we specified overtime, we were able to grasp how additional earnings--like sick-leave conversion, bonuses, allowances--can significantly inflate a base salary.
So, naturally, we asked the school system two weeks ago for salaries that reflect all income--like what was reported to the IRS, and reflected on W-2's.
Given the history with MPIA deadlines, I was informed that the system would not treat the request as a legal one, and wouldn't have to wait another 30 days. To date, we have not received the system's earnings and the district has not indicated when it intends to turn them over.
There were also other inconsistencies in the data we received from the system. There were more than 50 employees without job titles, but showing salaries. On Jan. 23, we asked the system to provide those job titles, which they could not immediately produce, and as of this date have not.
When the school system decides to turn its earnings over--whether it's tomorrow, next week, or however the district interprets the MPIA deadline--we will be able to write more substantive stories about how the district is paying its employees.
More importantly, it will be then that citizens can truly make more informed judgements about how their money is being spent to educate their children.