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Paul Ryan Said $1.50 More Per Week Is a Big Deal for School Secretaries. Here’s the Story the Numbers Tell

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 04, 2018 2 min read
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In a push to promote the new federal tax code’s benefits, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan highlighted how a public high school secretary in Pennsylvania is now taking home an extra $1.50 per week. This would “more than cover” the “pleasantly surprised” secretary’s annual membership fee at Costco. Ryan tweeted this out on Saturday, but later deleted it after getting a lot of pushback on social media. Here’s a screen capture of the original tweet:

The AP story cited by Ryan quoted Julie Ketchum, who a Lancaster newspaper reported works as a secretary at Hempfield High School in the Hempfield school district. Ketchum said she was bemused that Ryan highlighted her as an example of how the tax code would help workers. Ketchum isn’t listed on a Pennsylvania open-government website listing Hempfield school district personnel and their salaries.

Nonetheless, we got to thinking: How much do school secretaries typically make, and what would a salary increase of $1.50 a week mean for them?

The average school secretary’s base pay in the U.S. is $34,450, according to Glassdoor, a job and employer review site. That’s pretty much in line with historical pay for secretaries—for the 2003-04 school year, an Education Week survey reported that a school secretary’s average salary was $24,964, or $33,230 in today’s dollars, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009-10, the mean school-level secretary salary according to another Education Week survey was $30,474, or $34,807 in today’s dollars. (Central office secretaries tend to make more than a secretary for an individual school.)

However, Payscale, an employment research firm, recently reported that the median salary for school secretaries is $28,567, based on a survey of 1,030 secretaries. And SimplyHired, which helps employees and employers calculate compensation, reported an average salary of $31,568.

However, these sorts of stats should be taken with a grain of salt, in part because they are based on online submissions. For example, Glassdoor separately lists the average base pay of elementary school secretaries at $46,010 a year, based on over 7,500 salary figures submitted to Glassdoor. The website doesn’t cite a reason for the big difference between elementary school secretaries and the more general figure.

It’s worth noting that the mean average wage for secretaries and administrative assistants for various employers in Pennsylvania was $34,930 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ketchum said the extra salary means $78 more a year for her, although that’s based on getting $1.50 more over 52 weeks, and many school employees do not get paid during the summer break. That salary bump does indeed cover an individual’s annual Costco “Gold Star” membership of $60, plus $18 left over, enough for 12 hot dogs and 12 sodas at Costco. But if you want the fancier “Executive Club” membership benefits at Costco, that’s $120 per year, which Ketchum’s salary bump wouldn’t cover.

Ultimately, $78 per year extra represents a pay increase of about 0.23 percent for the average school secretary. That’s if we take Glassdoor’s annual average base pay of $34,450 for secretaries, which is relatively close to the mean average wage figures from BLS we cited earlier, as well as previous inflation-adjusted numbers from previous Education Week surveys.

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Holly Peele, Library Director contributed to this article.