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clear Assessment of TheChampion.org Salary Data

One source of salary information on the Web is a site called TheChampion.org. This site and the data it contains have a number of drawbacks and weaknesses.

In a nutshell, Champion.org is a reliable source of individual salary data for FY2005 (school year 2004/05) and FY2004. However, individual salary data is inaccurate for FY2003, FY2002, and earlier. Compensation figures reported for about two-thirds of the staff are understated by 1-5% up to 10% or more. This creates a bias toward overstating compensation growth from those and earlier years.

In addition, citizens relying on this data alone to understand District 64 compensation are missing four essential components to the picture, as described below.

Is the data accurate?

Family Taxpayers Foundation's "The Champion" downloads Creditable Earnings from the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) for each individual covered by the system. Creditable Earnings are defined as salary, stipends for other activities such as advising clubs and so forth, District-paid retirement contributions, vacation and sick day buyouts, bonuses, and other compensation. The data does not include the cost of employer-paid health insurance. The Web site's "Teacher and Administrator Database" covers fiscal years 1999 through 2005. Data can be found by selecting a specific school district or individual staff member.

District 64, as do all Illinois districts, submits individual staff data, including Creditable Earnings to TRS in August following the end of the fiscal year (June 30). This data is organized according to definitions and a format specified by TRS, and is transmitted to TRS on electronic media. This data is collected, stored and audited by TRS. TheChampion.org downloads this data directly from TRS. In principle, the data collected by TheChampion.org website should exactly match the data submitted by the District to TRS.

To test this assumption, the Community Finance Committee compared Creditable Earnings data submitted by District 64 to Creditable Earnings data reported by Champion.org.

Full time staff members employed by the District in both 2002 and 2005 (all years are fiscal years) were identified. In aggregate, these staff members accounted for about two-thirds of total salaries and about half of all staff (251 out of 573). The Creditable Earnings for each of these staff members for these two years, as reported by the District, were compared to TheChampion.org.

Here are the results:

  • The figures for 2005 exactly match for every individual.
  • The figures for 2002 do not match in all cases. TheChampion.org's numbers understate actual Creditable Earnings for about 60% of this group:
    • Understate by more than 10%: 4 staff members
    • Understate by 6-10%: 18
    • Understate by 1-5%: 129
    • About 0% difference: 95
    • Overstate: 5
These inaccuracies have a serious impact:
  • Overall salary growth as calculated from Champion.org overstates actual growth by about 2%.
  • For individuals, the overstatement in salary growth ranges from 2% to 20%.
The Community Finance Committee conducted an additional test. Data reported by the District for 2003 and 2004 were "spot checked" against Champion.org, with these results:
  • The figures for 2004 exactly match for the individuals checked.
  • The figures reported by Champion.org for 2003 understate actual figures but to an apparently lesser degree than 2002 data.
    • Of the 31 sampled, one-third were exact matches.
    • Of the remaining sample, the range of understatements was about 1% to 4% (although a few figures were higher).
Other components to the compensation picture

In addition to the accuracy issue, citizens relying on TheChampion.org data to understand District 64 compensation should be sensitive to four analysis considerations.

  • First, data for a staff member hired during the fiscal year reflect actual Creditable Earnings, which are not annualized. A teacher joining District 64 halfway through the year would show a year-over-year salary growth of 50%, which, of course, in not an accurate view of the teacher's salary rate.

  • Second, part-time staff member data are not annualized. A part-time staff member working varying hours over time would yield a misleading view of his or her underlying compensation rate.

  • Third, compensation changes due to increased education attainment, promotions, or increased job responsibilities cannot be inferred from the data. Therefore, conclusions about why individual compensation levels are changing cannot be made.

  • Finally, only certified teaching staff are eligible for participation in TRS. About 200 District 64 employees are not in TRS, and are therefore not part of TheChampion.org database.
Conclusion

Fuller and more accurate judgments of overall salary policy and decisions can be gleaned by evaluating District 64's actual reported salary growth in the major staff groups as listed in this Fact Book chapter.

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