Publication Of School Salary Data Is Targeted

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Earlier this year, when the Potomac News (now called the News & Messenger) published an Internet database listing all Prince William County school employees by name and their respective salaries, the school system was forced into an awkward position.

On one hand, school officials were upset at the disclosures of pay for rank-and-file employees, including bus drivers, janitors and teachers. On the other hand, it was the school system that released that information at the request of the local paper, citing the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Now, the Prince William County School Board wants the state to alter the FOIA rules so that the salary of each employee does not have to be released for public consumption. The School Board has listed the proposal as one of its legislative priorities for next year's General Assembly legislative session.

In an interview, School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns (At Large) said some school employees, such as top administrative officials or high earners, should be fair game. But for others, such as non-administrators or those earning lower salaries, the public's right to know does not outweigh the employees' right to privacy, he said. It is unclear what the parameters of the bill might be, but one idea is to keep from the public any salaries of "non-administrative employees and/or those employees earning under $100,000," he said.

"We got a fair amount of negative reaction among employees," Johns said of the local paper's publication of the salaries. "It seemed to us that it was an invasion of privacy and that the only purpose it could serve was to generate animosity among employees and between employees and the School Board and administration."

Susan Svihlik, the News & Messenger executive editor, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

Bonnie Klakowicz, president of the Prince William Education Association, a teachers union in the county, said the organization has not taken a firm position on the School Board's lobbying efforts. When the information was released, Klakowicz was an art teacher at Leesylvania Elementary School, where some teachers were upset, she said. "I do think it's a matter of privacy, but we are public employees, and people need to know," she said.

School Board Vice Chairman Grant Lattin (Occoquan) said he questions what public service is provided when a low-level teacher's salary is revealed along with the identity of the teacher. Besides, he said, the public has access to the county's pay scale.

"That's why the balance leans toward disclosing it for senior employees. They are held more accountable to the employees and there are larger sums of money," said Lattin, who is also acting director of the general litigation division for the office of the judge advocate general. "I know at the federal level, FOIAs [on specific salaries] can be withheld."

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