In response to the Conejo Guardian publishing public salary and benefits data for every Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) employee who made $70,000 or more in 2020, the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers, a union, sent a scathing letter to its members claiming that public oversight of their pay and benefits is “wrong” (see full letter at right).
Many teachers and other local residents replied to the Conejo Guardian, with most expressing shock at how high salaries and pay packages are for those getting by “on a teacher’s salary,” plus the sheer number of well-paid employees in a school district of 15,400 or so students.
Some readers assumed an anti-public school bias, as if examining how taxpayer dollars are spent is somehow aggressive or, as the union put it, “wrong.” Some teachers suggested we only publish the salaries and pay packages of “bigwig” administrators but leave their own compensation unpublished.
The public has a right and a duty to know where its money is being spent. Unfortunately, as the union letter makes clear, a culture of secrecy has come to define public employment, as unions negotiate ever-more-generous pay packages while virtually no one in the public employment system has any incentive to say no to demands for increases. Public accountability only gets in the way.
If public schooling is to work well, it must be accountable to those who fund it: taxpayers. Public employees must re-adapt to a culture where their function and remuneration are subject to public scrutiny. Without this check and balance, systems fail and fall apart.
To be pro-public schools is to be pro-accountability.
— Conejo Guardian editor
Letter emailed to members of the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers
You may have seen or heard about the article published in the Guardian today. This article titled “Local Public Schools’ Salary Bonanza: As Test Scores Sag, Pay Packages Soar” is misleading. Since there is no information about what is included in their calculation for the numbers they published, the salary information contained in the article MAY be accurate because it MAY include the money the district spends on health benefits and the contribution they make to STRS in addition to gross pay. The claim that test scores have sagged is also misleading. According to Dr. McLaughlin, our scores have actually remained quite steady despite the pandemic. In fact, they are some of, if not the, best in the county. The Guardian is allowed to publish this information since we are public employees. In fact, the website they got their information from transparentcalifornia.com files a Public Records Request with the district in order to get that exact information. So while it is upsetting, it is perfectly legal. We believe those in education deserve every dollar they get. As you know, we all work extremely hard and do amazing things every day for every student. While it may be legal for them to publish this information it’s wrong. We would have no problem publishing salary ranges for various positions or copies of salary schedules, but naming individual teachers and putting how much they make in the newspaper is grossly irresponsible and an invasion of privacy. There is no journalistic rationale for this and the same information could have been communicated to the public without singling out individuals. California is facing a massive teacher shortage, which was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Attacks on the profession like this, presenting paying teachers a living wage as somehow a bad thing will only further discourage desperately needed potential educators from entering the profession. (Here is a link to an article about the teacher shortage.)
Please do not let this article take away from what you do. Keep your heads up and be proud of what you do.
UACT Executive Board