Board members feel RSS transparent enough
By Sarah Campbell
When Rowan County Commissioners requested the county publish an online database of employee salaries, the ripple effect hit the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education almost immediately.
Within a week, school board member Mike Caskey requested the topic of transparency be added to the February agenda.
But when the board met Feb. 28 there wasn’t much discussion.
Instead of following suit with the county, Caskey suggested the database exclude names.
“It’s about access,” he said Friday. “It’s all public information, I’m just trying to make it easier for people to see what’s going on.”
The position-only database and financial Web page didn’t appeal to the other board members. Caskey cast the single vote in favor the measure.
Board member Kay Wright Norman said she’s opposed to adding the salary database to the school system’s website because she feels it would be an unwise use of resources and personnel to keep it updated regularly.
“I don’t think people realize how often there is a change in personnel,” she said. “Our departments are already stretched thin, and this would require a lot of time and effort.”
School board member Bryce Beard agrees that posting a database online would require manpower for upkeep.
“It’s going to take away from our mission to provide the best education possible,” he said.
Norman said it’s not a lack of transparency because the information is “already available and anyone who wants it can get it.”
Board Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said posting the salaries online would be an “unnecessary invasion of privacy.”
“If somebody is that curious about how much somebody makes they can access that … they can call and make an appointment,” he said. “I’m not interested in putting it on the Internet just to pique somebody’s curiosity.
“I’m just not interested in doing it for some kind of voyeurism.”
Beard said he feels it’s “inappropriate” to post the salaries of every employee.
“It think it’s fine to have the ability to access the salaries of the superintendent and maybe the administrators,” he said.
Beard said he is opposed to posting the salaries of teachers, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers and the like.
“It seems to me it becomes more of a conflict between transparency and individual rights,” he said. “I want to protect our teachers’ privacy.”
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During the February school board meeting, Caskey also requested an additional Web page housing financial information such as quarterly expenditure reports and state, federal and local allotments.
Although that motion was met with opposition, Beard said he’s not completely opposed to the request.
“I think we need to see it first, instead of talking about it in kind of a global way,” he said. “We need to know specifically what we are talking about putting on there.”
The John Locke Foundation gave the school system a “D” on its website that grades government agencies on their transparency, www.nctransparency.com.
Sixty-nine percent of school systems in the state received a “D.”
Surrounding districts including Alamance-Burlington, Davidson, Iredell-Statesville and Kannapolis also received a “D,” while Cabarrus received a “C.”
“A D is passing so I just guess we’ll have to accept it,” Emerson said. “I don’t know what they’re after.”
Scores are based on the number of resources available on the school district’s website. A checkbook, contracts, state health plan expenses/revenues, school transit spending and needs, audit reports and salaries of employees earning $50,000 or more were cited as “unavailable resources” on the Rowan-Salisbury website.
Caskey said he would like to see all of that information added to the school system’s website at some point.
“You can’t have too much information out there for the public,” he said.
Norman said she doesn’t feel a “D” is a fair grade for the site.
“If you believe that in order to have transparency you have to do x, y and z, then when someone doesn’t do that of course they are graded differently,” she said. “That’s somebody’s opinion.”
Norman said there are other ways to become educated about what’s going on within the school system besides logging on to the Internet.
“I think when people have a sincere desire for information, the most logical place to start is by coming to the meetings,” she said. “A lot of things can be learned by reading minutes. … That’s a very easy way to get information.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.