Oops! $300k School Super Under-Reports Pay

Today's Grand Rapids Press adds important details to a story Michigan Capitol Confidential reported on Oct. 13 about Kevin O'Neill, superintendent of the Coopersville School District, whose annual compensation totals $311,034. That's the third-highest in the state and comes to $120 per student in the district of 2,600. The Press's Dave Murray reports today that when the paper asked local school districts in 2009 to report how much they paid their superintendents, Coopersville and O'Neill under-reported his 2008 pay by $40,000.

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In the Capitol Confidential story, O'Neill defended his pay, saying that the district got a "good bang for their dollar with me." A member of the school board added, "We feel he is definitely worth it."

Today's report raises a question, however: If the parties responsible for this rich compensation are so convinced that it's a good deal for taxpayers, why did the district apparently mislead The Press in 2009?

O'Neill says it was a mistake, and there's no reason to doubt him. The Press story explains the details.

But something else changed since then which may also have a bearing: In 2009 the newspaper had to solicit the pay information with a Freedom of Information Act request. Since then, a provision was added to the annual school aid budget requiring districts to post online the total compensation of all employees whose salaries exceed $100,000. This mandated posting was the source for the Capitol Confidential story.

Incidentally, this reporting provision was slipped into the annual 2009-2010 school budget bill late in the legislative process. It was also included again in the 2010-2011 budget (and even expanded a bit). However, it can be slipped out of the next annual budget bill just as easily as it was slipped into the last two. Taxpayers would be better served if the provision was adopted as a stand-alone and much more comprehensive spending transparency law that isn't subject to annual tinkering.