Group sheds light on school salaries

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LAPS: Among 32 districts that complied with public records law; see attachment

By Whitney Jones

Employee salaries of 32 New Mexico school districts are now available online.

And it’s not the work of state government’s Sunshine Portal, but rather that of the Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Foundation.

Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing said the non-profit organization requested the data from 40 school districts with populations exceeding 1,000 through the state’s public records law. Eight, however, failed to comply with the law’s 15-day timeframe. Those school districts include Alamogordo, Cobre, Las Vegas, Lovington, Ruidoso, Silver City, and two northern New Mexico school districts: Taos and Pojoaque.

Asked if the organization planned to lodge a complaint with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, Gessing said the first step is to publicly shame them through the media.

He said that’s necessary because one of the downfalls of the revamped public records law is that there is hardly any recourse for government entities that do not comply with records requests.

The law, however, does provide for some recourse. The law calls for damages up to $100 per day for each day the government entity is not in compliance.

“Access to public records is one of the fundamental rights afforded people in a democracy,” the law states citing the Nixon v. Warner Communications United States Supreme Court Decision. “Even where there is no statute, a common law right to inspect and copy public records affords members of the public the opportunity to keep a watchful eye on government.”

Gessing said the reason behind the request for school employee salaries is to make this information easily available to the public who may not know the law and their rights.

And for additional help navigating the law, another resource is the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

Gessing said the salaries of several municipalities and counties are also available online.

To see the salary documents for Los Alamos schools click here. For salary documents for other school districts across the state, visit riograndefoundation.org.