We’ve been calling on the state Legislature to implement a policy of “proactive disclosure” of public information – and the Niskayuna Central School District has just helped bolster our case.

Recently, a local taxpayer questioned the size of increases in administrative salaries. She based her analysis on data posted at the Empire Center’s transparency website www.SeeThroughNY.net, which obtains a statewide file of annual salary information provided by districts to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS).

It turns out the data for Niskayuna administrators on the SeeThrough site was inaccurate — because the district itself initially misreported salaries to NYSTRS. District administrators were quick to correct the error once it was caught; after all, their golden parachutes pensions were ultimately riding on it.In fact, the salaries in one of the three years of data (2009) were higher than reported, meaning the apparent increase the following year was not as large as it first appeared.

Unfortunately, SeeThroughNY.net does not have real-time access to the NYSTRS database, so errors like this are not reflected promptly on the site. But there is an obvious way to ensure salary information available to taxpayers is always accurate: give school districts and other government employers the ability to self-report it.  The See-Through Government Transparency Act — model legislation we released last month – would do this.

P.S. – Those taxpayer questions prompted the school district to issue a clarification. The actual administrative pay increase during the 2005-06 through 2009-10 school years averaged 4.25%.Moreover, according to the district’s website,

… In exchange for the salary increase, the groups increased their contribution rate toward health insurance from 20 percent to 25 percent during that time. This represents the highest percentage of school employee contribution in the area.”

On closer inspection, however, the “exchange” seems lopsided. According to health insurance plan information obtained from the district, that extra 5 percent contribution would range from $316 annually for single coverage to $938 for family coverage. Meanwhile, for example, pay for one employee has jumped by an average of more than $5,200 annually since the 2007-08 school year.

P.P.S. – The district’s new contracts with administrative unions call for annual base pay increases of 2.95 percent, 1.6 percent and 2.95 percent, respectively, for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. (To its credit, Niskayuna is one of the few districts that posts labor contracts online.)

The administrators also managed to get an additional raise for the 2010-11 school year equal to “the amount of the 2009-2010 403(b) employer contribution paid to ING.” Translated: school administrators are being permanently compensated for a life insurance plan the district no longer offers.

All of which further underscores the need for greater transparency.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.