Schools hide buyout deals from taxpayers
It's a fairly common practice for school districts to offer buyout packages to superintendents who have worn out their welcome before the expiration of their contracts. It's happened most recently in the Niskayuna and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville districts.
These buyout deals cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in salary payouts and health benefits. But often, districts don't disclose the terms of the buyouts until after the boards have approved them. Sometimes, they don't disclose the terms at all. At OESJ, which approved a deal last Wednesday, the terms still hadn't been released as of today, although we understand the district is considering it.
There's no reason under the Freedom of Information Law for districts to withhold this information prior to board approval. Negotiations can take place in secret under the law. But once negotiations are concluded, the law states that the boards no longer have a legal reason for keeping the information a secret from the public. If the public responds negatively to the deal, the boards can always go back and renegotiate.
The withholding of these buyout deals is one way school boards avoid angering constituents with potentially unpopular decisions.
This practice not only violates our state's open government laws, it violates these officials' obligation to serve in a transparent and responsible manner.