Orange County Register Teacher Salary Expedition Spooks Public School Instructors

An Orange County Register editorial project that relies on the names, campuses and salaries of all public school teachers in the county has riled many instructors, a state teacher union official confirmed.

This was most dramatically played out in the Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD), the final holdout in providing the public information sought by Register editors.

The HBUHSD is working with the paper and the Orange County Department of
Education "to determine the relevance of all of the requested data, including specific work locations," Deborah M. Coleman, the district's assistant superintendent in charge of human resources, wrote in a letter dated Oct. 19 and sent to all employees.

"Although we continue to work with the Orange County Register and dispute the need and newsworthy nature of the specific data being requested, we feel it is important to notify each of you of the possibility that this will be released and become part of an upcoming newspaper article. To date, it has been determined that the requested information is within the rights of the Register and our District must relinquish this data."

She attached a letter written on Register letterhead and dated Oct. 6.

"I am a news journalist and I write to request an electronic copy of records maintained by your school district," reads the letter from Register education editor William Diepenbrock to the district's records supervisor. "This request is filed under the provisions of California Public Records Law."

It went on to state the Santa Ana-based daily was requesting the names, job titles, work locations, employment status (certificated, classified, pupil services, administration or other), full or part-time status, years of service in the district and/or educational attainment (step and column), the district step and column key, base salaries and details on elevating base salaries to total pay for all employees.

The Register further requested such information of every district employee making more than $100,000 a year. If no teacher is identified earning that much, the district is to single out its highest paid teacher, with the salary and all other personal data.

This information will be used "in an upcoming news story about salaries paid in
Orange County's public school system from 2004-05 through 2009-10," Diepenbrock notes in the letter. "The Register has obtained total salaries for all public schools for 2004-05, 2008-09 and 2009-10 from the county Department of Education."

He writes it is not the paper's intent to publish the salaries of the district's lowest-paid employees, and anyone with "potentially life-threatening situations" that could arise with their information being published is directed to provide him documentation. "We will consider their exclusion from our coverage," Diepenbrock states.

In light of Diepenbrock's letter, Coleman discloses in her message, "Individual employees DO NOT need to provide any of the information requested by the Orange County Register. The District Office will be responding to the public records request and providing the data that is being requested."

Three times she advises employees to contact Diepenbrock if they have a problem with any of this, including his phone number each time.

Here are Coleman and Diepenbrock's letters.pdf

Use of such information is being debated nationally. A New York Supreme Court judge is right now weighing whether the public has a right to see individual teacher ratings based on student test scores in the nation's largest school district.

William Diepenbrock
Asked to enlighten Weekly readers about the Register's use of the information, Diepenbrock wrote in an e-mail to me, "This effort has fallen under the aegis of several ongoing projects."

One is the California Project, "which examines why the state struggles on so many fronts. School funding, and spending, is one of those," he writes. "Second, we're publishing a series of databases on government salaries. This would be third or fourth in the current series (we've done this in the past, too). This is sort of basic accountability that's become more prominent since the Bell scandal."

Indeed, the Register's recent database that identified County of Orange employees and their salaries sparked an uproar. However, as these are public employees, that information cannot legally be kept secret.

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