RENO -- Education officials accuse Nevada lawmakers of inflating teacher salary averages used in a national comparison.
Nevada was the only state to include employer retirement contributions on top of teacher pay when submitting salary figures last summer to the Washington, D.C-based National Education Association, NEA spokesman Daniel Kaufman said.
With the 9.75-percent employer contribution added, Nevada teachers were listed as the nation's 15th highest paid in 2001-02, earning an average salary of $44,738 average. But when only actual paychecks are used, Nevada ranks 24th, Kaufman said.
"It's a significant change because you're talking about over $4,000 less," Kaufman told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "If that's what the legislature tells them (to report), that's how they have to do it."
Kaufman said NEA plans to separate Nevada teacher salaries from benefit figures when compiling future statistics, but the information the state submitted this year didn't contain a breakdown.
Doug Thunder, state deputy superintendent of administrative and fiscal services, said this was the first year such information was submitted electronically, but the state has included written notes in the past stating lawmaker wishes to include the retirement contribution figures.
Thunder said state law doesn't require teacher salary figures be submitted with benefits, but requests from legislators have prompted the practice. Because school districts pay employees full retirement and the state is a key financial source for districts, lawmakers contend such reporting is appropriate, Thunder said.
Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said Nevada has included retirement contributions with salary figures for a "long, long time" when reporting figures to national groups.
"It is properly included," Raggio said. "Even worse case, we're (ranked) in the middle."
But Virginia Duran, executive director of the Washoe Education Association in Reno, described the reporting practice as "inappropriate and unfair."
"There is a difference between compensation and salaries," she said.
Kenneth Lange, executive director of the Las Vegas-based Nevada State Education Association, said including benefits skews results because other states don't include them.
"We are one of one or two states that pays retirement for them," Raggio said. "The state pays an additional 9.75 percent and they don't have to report that as income. That's money they don't have to pay out or pay income tax on. To make it apples to apples, it has to be included."
Former assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said that not all legislators agreed.
"It's a matter of personal preference and how you want information to look," said Smith, a member of the Education Committee in 2001. "If you want a certain outcome, you can add it on or take it off."
Bonnie Parnell, a retired teacher and former Democratic assemblywoman from Carson City, said statistics don't do any good when numbers aren't compared on the same basis.
"If we're reviewing national reporting, that should be balanced so all states are playing the same game," Parnell said.