Recent changes in legislation have led to some confusion and controversy concerning the publication of school system financial information across the state, including employee salaries.
According to Kentucky Association of School Administrators Executive Director and General Counsel Wayne Young, salaries have always been an open record.
“They’re always subject to disclosure,” Young said. “There’s a statute in Kentucky, KRS 424.220, that has been in place for many years. It requires every year that school districts publish their annual financial report in the local newspaper.”
Young said approximately ten years ago, the General Assembly began waiving that requirement as a cost-saving measure.
“They allowed districts to publish that information in other forms, including on the internet and distribution through public libraries,” Young said. “But the statutory requirement of publishing that information in the local newspaper was waived. The way they waived that was through language they would insert in the budget.”
Young explained this was generally done with a “notwithstanding clause.”
“What they’ll do is say notwithstanding this statute, you’re no longer required to do this or you may do that,” Young explained. “So they put those clauses in the budget for about ten years as far as I can recall, saying districts did not have to publish that information annually in the paper. This year when they passed the budget, that language was in there and Gov. Matt Bevin exercised a line-item veto on that provision, so he took away the waiver districts were using to not publish that information.”
Young pointed out once the line-item veto was done, schools were back under the statute requiring lump sum salary information in their financial report.
“It (the statute) also says local boards shall have accessible a factual list of individual salaries and shall provide it to the newspaper which may publish it,” Young said. “So that’s where it came from. It’s not a new requirement, it’s an old requirement that had been essentially suspended by language in the budget. Of course, salaries have always been an open record so that’s not new either.”
Young said the lump sum salary amount is required to be published in the newspaper.
“However, the actual amounts of the salaries have to be provided to the newspaper and the newspaper is free to publish them,” Young said.
Young mentioned the line-item veto of the waiver came as a surprise to many.
“Nobody really expected it,” Young said. “It was something the legislature had done for several years previously and people had gotten used to it…given the turnover in superintendents in our state over that period of time, I doubt that many of them remembered the fact you had to publish that report. We only have about 15 or 16 superintendents in Kentucky that have been a superintendent for more than 10 years.”
Harlan County Schools Superintendent Mike Howard issued a statement on the subject:
“The Harlan County School District has complied with the requirements of Kentucky Revised Statute 424.220 for the publication of financial information and the release of the employee salary information to the newspaper. 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. 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. 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.
“If you compared our salaries to those of districts outside the region, you would understand that our teachers could make a lot more money in other communities. Also, teachers are required to continue their education and can end up with huge loans required to finish their education. The Harlan County School District has an excellent staff working tirelessly to provide the best education and extracurricular experiences possible for Harlan County’s students. Educators are dedicated to their profession.”
Harlan Independent Schools Superintendent C.D. Morton stated his district has also submitted the information as required by the state statute.
“We weren’t alone, all other school districts across the commonwealth were required to do that exact same thing,” Morton said. “There are a lot of different viewpoints when you look at salaries or financial information, and at the end of the day what I come away with is it is fundamentally crucial that school districts have the best people in place preparing kids for the future, because all of the research shows that without a high school diploma life is tough financially.”
Morton said the financial gap over a lifetime between students who don’t graduate from high school and college versus those that do is close to $1 million.
“You can imagine what you can do with an extra million dollars over a lifetime,” Morton said. “I felt like the salary publication drove home the fact that it is so important for schools and school districts, more so now than any other time, to take serious what they’re doing. It’s vital that we have good quality, educated people that are trained to work with students and get them prepared for the next level.”
Morton pointed out the people working in the schools are dedicated people.
“They’re working really hard,” Morton said. “They have dedicated a lot of hours and time to completing degrees and certificates that have allowed them to be in a position to provide for their families and communities.”
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde.