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If archaic law on releasing school salaries bugs you, take the law a step further
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Based on emails, social media and mainstream media reports, a Kentucky law dating back more than a half century upset some local educators.
It’s KRS 424.220, originally adopted by the General Assembly in 1958, which requires that most school, city and county governments make public certain financial expenditure reports on an annual basis. I say “most” because the law exempts the state’s largest and smallest city or consolidated governments from its provisions.
Earlier this year, education leaders were upset with Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of state budget language exempting school systems from having to pay for newspaper publication of their annual financial reports. But this fall, it was a separate section of the statute that caused unease.
Section 4 of the law requires local school boards and fiscal courts to “furnish by mail a factual list of individual salaries of its employees to a newspaper qualified under KRS 424.120 to publish advertisements for the district, which newspaper may then publish as a news item the individual salaries of school or county employees.”
As best as can be determined, only one Kentucky newspaper published a story and listing of school salaries in its print edition while a second posted the payroll data – including names – online. But – again based on the communications noted at the outset of this column – the subject was a point of controversy in more than just those two districts.
One place where the data was made public – with a resulting series of local sparks – was in Harlan County. How the district responded to the local controversy might offer some options for others for the future.
Don’t complain – explain
Not long after the Harlan Daily Enterprise posted the salary list online, Superintendent Mike Howard and other administrators began hearing from employees. As it had been a long time since such information was published, some staff members blamed Howard.
When the local paper chose to write an article on the issue, Howard did much more than just note that the district was complying with state law, raising some excellent points.
“My greatest concern about the listing of the salaries is that no explanation was given as to why one employee makes substantially more or less than another employee,” Howard said. “The number of contract days vary among employees, ranging from 181 days per year to 240 days per year. We have substitutes who work much less. We have some who teach and tutor after school. We have others who teach, coach and drive school buses. Anything extra, like providing home-hospital instruction after school, is above and beyond regular salary. Extra service pay varies accordingly and can certainly give the impression something isn’t fair concerning salary. It is important to understand also that a beginning teacher with no experience may only have a bachelor’s degree. Teachers and administrators who have worked for years and earned their master’s degree, Rank I and other advanced degrees will make substantially more money than the beginning teacher. Our salary scales take into account years of service and degrees earned.
“Also when employees retire, they are compensated for 30 percent of their accumulated sick time,” he said. “We have employees who accumulate a lot of sick days during their 27-plus years with us. When they are compensated in their final year for the sick time, it appears their salary has been much higher than it actually was. Many don’t understand this and don’t realize that is a one-year figure. These type events make salaries appear inflated when in fact they aren’t. Sadly, this can cause dissension among staff.”
The Last Word
A colleague in another district offered some equally sage advice – release the required information and don’t make a controversy if one doesn’t exist. That’s obviously the way to go if the local paper doesn’t do a story or print the list, or if folks don’t get riled.
But if a hullabaloo occurs, don’t just stick to the minimums required by the lawmakers. Give the taxpayers more. Who knows? Maybe a little education on salaries can be positively enlightening.
And also a message worth getting out.
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