Newport-Mesa School District asked to disclose salaries

A nonpartisan research institute could seek legal counsel in the coming weeks to compel the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to disclose employee salaries online.

The California Policy Center, a Tustin-based think tank, submitted California Public Records Act requests to more than 1,058 school districts throughout the state, including Newport-Mesa, arguing that the public has a right to know how much teachers earn.

The organization would then add the information to its newly released online database, Transparent California, which allows the public to search employee compensation figures for superintendents, teachers, principals and other district staff members.

It has been 180 days since the center's initial request and only three-quarters of the districts have responded.

Newport-Mesa is among those that haven't answered the request, said Robert Fellner, a research fellow with the center.

"You always wonder if maybe your email isn't going through, or if they're just not responding to you," he said.

A spokesman for Newport-Mesa Unified said the district did not respond to the center's request because it believed the Orange County Department of Education would be submitting the information on its behalf.

"The holdup wasn't on our end; it was that we thought the Department of Education was going to be providing it," said district spokesman Matthew Jennings. "If that's not the case, we will provide the information."

A spokesperson for the Costa Mesa-based Orange County Department of Education could not be reached for comment.

While the organization hasn't yet requested legal assistance in enforcing the state records act, which specifies that requests for certain information, including compensation, be answered in 10 business days, the option is not out of the question, Fellner said.

"That's definitely the next step," he said.

While anyone can request salary information from the district, Transparent California's aim is to provide accurate information in a way that's convenient for the public to review, Fellner said.

The California Teachers Assn. publicly opposes the effort, saying it supports releasing teacher salaries to the public – just not by name.

The Transparent California website also allows users to compare data from their city or school district with those around them, he said.

"We feel there is a lot of heated discussion about employee salaries, and it's an important conversation to have," he said.

Fellner said the center's mission hasn't been well-received by some officials.

"People think we're attacking employees," he said. "It's not a personal attack at all. It's about having accurate information out there for people."

Nicholas Dix, the executive director of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, isn't opposed to publishing compensation data, even if it includes teachers.

"The public has a right to know how the district is spending public funds," he said.

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