KSBA eNews Service, Frankfort, March 14, 2013
State auditor, ed commissioner press for greater public review of superintendent contracts, more benefit details
In the wake of several critical audits of district finances, Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen has recommended a series of actions to inject greater transparency in the evaluations of superintendents by local school boards. And in a Frankfort news conference Thursday, officials of the state Department of Education endorsed the proposals, saying they will be incorporated in already planned new requirements for superintendent reviews and board member training in that area.
“What we’re dealing with here certainly is not descriptive statewide. Most superintendents are committed to doing the right thing,” Edelen said. “But when you conduct four investigations and find people charged with administering school districts were in varying degrees enriching themselves at the expense of children, clearly it calls for new safeguards in place to ensure that this kind of abuse can’t occur anywhere.”
In the past year, the state auditor’s office has conducted special investigations into superintendent benefits and oversight of district finances in Breathitt County, Dayton Independent, Kenton County and Mason County schools. [eNews note: eNews has been asked to clarify that the audit in Kenton County did not involve the superintendent’s contract or benefits, but rather other issues relating to oversight of district finances.]
Edelen said each of the audits found a “common theme” of lack of transparency and proper oversight by the board. And while superintendent base salaries currently are posted on the KDE website, he said, “ School board members and the public need to see total compensation packages.”
In prepared remarks delivered by Associate Education Commissioner Hiren Desai (Education Commissioner Terry Holliday limited his comments due to his continuing throat problems), all of Edelen’s recommendations were endorsed.
“Most of our schools board and superintendents are doing a fabulous job, but what these audits have shown that we do have isolated incidents around the state that need to be addressed,” Desai said.
“It is the local board’s responsibility to examine all contracts and benefits, and determine if those costs are legitimate. We need to better equip our board members to make those decisions in a responsible manner. As these audits show, a lot of our board members don’t have the capacity or capability to make those decisions,” he said. “As part of this process, the state board of education will be considering revisions of state regulations governing board member training to require mandatory training in areas of finance and ethics for all school board members across the state. “
Speaking briefly, Holliday added, “We’ve got a partnership with the school boards association on the training of school boards in these very important annual goals (but) my experience is that sometimes school boards are not focused on the big ticket items like fiscal management and student achievement. For that purpose, we’ve got a draft of what we’re going to require school boards to review with their superintendents each year as part of the evaluation.”
According to Desai, the new superintendent evaluation template will reflect the outline Holliday previously announced in remarks at the KSBA Annual Conference last month. Those include mandatory inclusion of superintendent measurements about academic targets – achievement gaps, student growth and graduation rates – and fiscal goals such as development of a balanced budget. All local boards will be required to submit to KDE by December their revised policies to reflect the new superintendent evaluation model.
Holliday also said, in response to reporters’ questions, that KDE will be examining the issue of the allowance for one-year “rollovers” to superintendents contracts.
“Should you roll over a four year contract every single year? I don’t think so. So we’ll look into that a little more closely,” the commissioner said.
Both Edelen and Holliday said they would have more to say on these subjects in coming months. Holliday confirmed his office has begun a removal process in the case of one local board member. And he said that his agency is reviewing the fiscal status of some districts, after having recently taken over management of the Breathitt County system and Monticello Independent.
“We just took over one school district, Monticello, and now the local board is only advisory under state management. There will be others (coming) of the next few months,” Holliday said.
Joint news release from state auditor’s office
and state Department of Education
Auditor Edelen and Education Commissioner Holliday Call for Superintendent Contracts, Benefits, Evaluations to be More Transparent to Taxpayers
Move Comes on the Heels of Scathing School Examinations by Auditor’s office, Push by Holliday to require Strengthened Superintendent Evaluations, Training for School Board Members
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 14, 2013) – Education Commissioner Terry Holliday supports a recommendation by Auditor Adam Edelen to require superintendent contracts, benefits and annual evaluations be made available online after a series of school district special examinations found a lack of transparency and oversight.
The Auditor’s office last week released a scandalous special examination that found the former superintendent of Dayton Independent Schools received $224,000 in benefits and payments over an eight-year period that were not authorized by the board. An examination released last fall found the former superintendent of the Mason County School District also received compensation in excess of his contract.
“When school boards are in the dark about the benefits and payments their own superintendents are receiving, how can the public ever be confident their tax dollars are being spent to provide our children with the world-class education they deserve?” Auditor Edelen said.
The recommendation follows a recent announcement by Commissioner Holliday of his plans to impose stricter requirements for superintendent evaluations and ethics and fiscal oversight training for school board members.
“We’re seeing far too many cases where adults are making choices that are right for them rather than what’s really right for students and their future,” Commissioner Holliday said. “The focus needs to be on supporting what happens in the classroom and ensuring all our students graduate college/career-ready.”
Superintendent salaries are currently posted on the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) website, but more information about superintendent contracts and benefits is needed to give a complete picture of superintendents’ total compensation packages.
Later this spring, KDE will send a letter to all school board chairs outlining the reporting requirements, process and deadline for submission, Commissioner Holliday said. Once the information is assembled, it will be available to anyone on the Kentucky Department of Education website.
In addition to copies of contracts, the department will be asking for information including:
Monthly travel allowances
Exclusive use of a district vehicle, including if it is for personal use
Use of district fuel or district credit card to purchase fuel, including if it is for personal use
Payment or reimbursement for cell phone and Internet services
Leave time and maximum leave allowed to be accumulated
Reimbursement for personal retirement contributions
Reimbursement for the purchase of retirement service credit
Payment or reimbursement for retirement annuity
Payment or reimbursement for educational tuition assistance
This move comes at the same time the Office of Education Accountability, at the request of the Education Accountability and Assessment Review Subcommittee (EAARS) of the Kentucky General Assembly, is looking into superintendent employment issues as part of its 2013 study agenda.
“State and local government have come a long way in becoming more transparent, making everything from state contracts to our basketball coaches’ compensation packages readily available, yet important information about our schools is still cloaked in darkness,” Auditor Edelen said.
Under KRS 61.870-61.884, the Kentucky Open Records Act, all the information that will be collected is currently available to the public. But it isn’t always easily accessible, Holliday said. These efforts will make the information available to anyone, anytime in one location in a format that is clear and straightforward, Auditor Edelen added.
“I have always been an advocate for openness and transparency,” Commissioner Holliday said. “I welcome the auditor’s recommendations and hope this will result in a greater level of fiscal oversight and responsibility in our school districts. It is the duty of us all to be accountable and good stewards of the taxpayer’s money.”