New bill would close loophole used by school districts to hide how much they pay – San Bernardino Sun

A bill introduced Friday, Feb. 4, in the California Legislature would close a loophole allowing school districts to avoid reporting how much they pay their employees to the state controller each year.

Under existing state law, cities, counties and special districts are required to make such disclosures, but school districts could choose whether to comply due to an oversight. As a result, only 23% of California’s school districts reported their annual compensation to the state controller in 2021.

The new bill, SB 924, is authored by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Contra Costa; Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens; and Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, R-Yucaipa.

“School districts should be disclosing the pay of their top administrators just like every other public entity,” Glazer said in a statement. “They have used a loophole in the law to prevent easily accessible public disclosure. This legislation will close that gap.”

Since 2010, the state controller has published payroll records on its Government Compensation in California website. The public database was launched in response to the discovery that city employees in Bell had amassed outlandish salaries, including a city manager who was making $800,000 a year.

AB 2040, a bill authored by Garcia and signed in 2014, made it mandatory for public agencies to turn over the records to the state controller. It originally included school districts, but language in a separate law inadvertently allowed districts to opt out.

Garcia said the new bill will close the loophole “once and for all.”

“It makes me angry to learn that eight years after the passage of my AB 2040 in 2014, most school districts are not complying with the intent of the law due to a loophole,” Garcia stated. “This type of behavior is why the public loses trust in our government. Sunshine is good for the democratic process and, if your decisions are valid, you shouldn’t be afraid to share that with the public.”

Last year, the Southern California News Group discovered the loophole while reporting on the salary of Ontario-Montclair School District Superintendent James Hammond, who made more than $700,000 in 2020 and 2021 through a series of out-of-the-ordinary perks, including the ability to accrue and cash out more than 110 days of sick and vacation time every single year.

The state’s “School Accountability Report Card” for the district, however, listed his salary as only $299,676 in 2019, though he had actually collected $608,708 that year.

Like other school districts, Ontario-Montclair had not reported its payroll records to the state controller for years. The district provided the past three years of data to the state Controller’s Office in late 2021 following an inquiry from a reporter.

In a news release, the legislators pointed to Hammond’s pay as evidence of the need for more transparency from school districts.

“As our state government grapples with a hefty budget surplus, it is more important than ever to ensure all tax dollars are appropriately allocated and are efficiently serving the needs of Californians,” Ochoa Bogh stated. “SB 924 will make way for greater transparency in our education system by allowing families to see how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.”

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