AASD should learn a lesson in disclosure

Taxpayers have a right to be disgusted with the Altoona Area School District for past practices that an investigating attorney says led to unauthorized pay raises for 11 people, including Superintendent Dennis Murray.

While the state auditor general is expected to add to the ongoing saga in a way that Murray expects will prove his innocence, the allegations have been troubling from the start.

Findings revealed Wednesday night indicate that 10 administrators and one secretary received raises, between 2007 and 2010, that were never publicly approved by the school board.

“[Murray] contends raises were discussed during executive sessions, but evidence does not bear that out,” investigating attorney Paul Ciansi reported. “Further, no action can be taken in executive session, and even if raises had been discussed, it was incumbent on Dr. Murray to have ensured action was taken in public before he caused raises to be paid.”

Murray, after expressing his disappointment with the investigating attorney’s result, faulted school directors for failing to ask salary-related questions.

“The buck doesn’t stop with the superintendent, the buck stops with the board,” he said.

While this saga is likely to yield blame to share, we can tell you that the Altoona Area School District has a long history in trying to control the release and the publication of specific pay raises and salaries.

For many years, Altoona Mirror reporters had to ask school district personnel for annual pay raise information, generally after the school board passed a new budget that already accounted for those raises. And the Mirror’s request had to be specific because otherwise the district wanted to group administrators and report an average percentage increase.

As the current school board figures out how to move forward, the school directors need to identify and get rid of practices that essentially set up roadblocks to restrict access to public information. Such practices may have kept school directors in the dark as well.

From now on, every school board meeting agenda with action linked to an employee’s job and compensation should show current salary, pay adjustment and resulting salary.

Had that kind of practice been used routinely over the years, Murray might have remained on the job, rather than on leave, as he nears the retirement date that he designated.