One of the first bills passed this year in the Nebraska Legislature requires the salaries of school superintendents to be published on the state department of education website.The bill – The Superintendent Pay Transparency Act – was signed by Gov. Heineman on Feb. 12, just five weeks after the Legislature opened for business.
The vote was 43-0.
In addition to superintendent’s salaries, the law also requires the salary of the top administrator of an educational service unit to be publicized. School districts must publish the contract of the superintendent and ESU administrator within two days after the contract is signed. Also, related costs to the budget must be published.
The contracts themselves must be published on the Nebraska Department of Education website by Aug. 1 of the year the contract is signed.
Many school districts, such as North Platte, already publish the salary packages of top administrators on their websites. The Bulletin has regularly reported those salaries. But many school districts do not make the information public.
Sens. Al Davis, Jim Scheer, Dan Watermeier, Jeremy Nordquist and Pete Pirsch sponsored the bill.
Norquist said the intent that “some of our highest-paid public employees in the state…should require a higher level of scrutiny."
“I think this is a pathway to get to that," Norquist said. "And I think it would just give the school boards making those decisions a little more pause as they make those decisions to know that there will be a higher level of transparency."
The bill passed the first round, but then, Sen. Tom Carlson, who is running for governor, moved to bracket (indefinitely postpone) the bill during debate Jan. 30, but his motion failed.
Sen. Tyson Larson opposed Carlson’s effort. Larson said he received a phone call from his alma mater high school, Weeping Water, where the superintendent was offered a new salary package. He said members of the Weeping Water community that wanted to see what that package was, “but the superintendent said no, he didn't need to tell them what was in his package.”
Larson asked the Nebraska Attorney General's office to call the superintendent to get him to release his package to the public. He said in many small communities, superintendents make $105,000 or $110,000 a year, while teachers are making $28,000 or $29,000.
“And in a small community, $110,000 is a lot of money,” Larson said. “And the school district, especially where property taxes are today, the taxpayers deserve to know what they're paying for these individuals to run their schools.”
Also in the debate, Sen. Ernie Chambers said “the public's business should be conducted in public.”
“It should be in full view of everybody who has any interest in knowing what is going on,” he said. “If there is any person feeding at the public trough (as we as legislators can be said derisively to be doing by accepting a salary comprising tax money,) then we shouldn't be in the Legislature or anywhere else where the salary is going to be made public.”
Driving the point home, Chambers said, “if some people are so weak, so fearful that they think something bad will happen to them if their salary is made public, they should find another avenue for making their living, such as bank robbing, housebreaking, or sneak thieving...those are activities…which are done in secret.”
This report was first published in the Bulletin's Feb. 19 print edition.