by Max Brantley
An article in the Democrat-Gazette today (sub. reqd.) examined the teacher pay gap between the best-paying and worst-paying Arkansas public school districts. The article said the gap in extremes of average pay had widened by about $1,000 since 2002-03.
The Arkansas Education Association has sent along a fuller data table (sorry, I just discovered my first effort to load a new form of spready sheet failed. This is working on my browser now. Let me know.) on average pay comparisons since 2002-03, which was the year before the legislature raised taxes for schools. For space or other reasons, the chart in the D-G didn't list the 2003-04 year, when the gap was almost $35,000, much higher than the roughly $23,400 it is now. It also happened to leave out years when districts other than Fayetteville -- once Little Rock and once Bentonville -- had the highest average pay in the state.
The AEA notes that the highest average pay has increased 7 percent since 2003-04 while the lowest average pay increased 78 percent. Since 2004-05, after the major legislative effort, the highest average pay has increased 10.5 percent while the lowest average pay has increased 19.1 percent.
Another way to look at the numbers is to look at the district with the lowest average pay and compare it to the state average. In 2002-03, Lake View's average of $23,867 was 62.9 percent of the statewide average of $37,536. In 2008-09, Midland's $35,825 was 78.2 percent of the statewide average of $45,761.
The AEA's point isn't that there's equity or that no one's deserving of more money. The point is that some progress has been made, more than a fluctuating gap between the single richest and single poorest school district might illustrate. The article quoted AEA executive director Rich Nagel on the average changes.
Given the impact of local property wealth, erasing the gap, even with countywide school districts, isn't likely in a state with such disparate wealth as the poor Delta and prosperous counties like Pulaski, Washington and Benton. Another factor in the gap between extremes is that Fayetteville busts the curve, paying on average $4,400 more than the next closest district, Springdale.
More fun with arithmetic.