California’s School Districts Lack Payroll Transparency. That Needs to Change.

A recent investigation by Southern California News Group revealed that the head of the Ontario-Montclair School District raked in $600,000 a year by cashing out boatloads of unused sick time. That revelation took digging and a public records act request. Unlike cities and counties, school districts aren’t required to submit salary data to the state controller, who then makes that data public.

School districts are encouraged to submit payroll data to the controller but, according to Betty Yee, only 23% of school employers did so last year. Among the districts that have failed to submit data are San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified, both of which are in precarious financial positions. The aforementioned Ontario-Montclair School District in San Bernardino County also failed to hand over data in 2020. 

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board has called for increased transparency from the state’s public school districts, especially in light of their requests for more money.

“Since school districts are not volunteering the information, legislators should compel them to turn it over,” the Editorial Board writes.

“School districts get about 40% of the state budget every year and are responsible for one of society’s most important tasks — educating the next generation of Californians. Public education is an essential expense for the future of our society and state, but school districts have an obligation to be transparent with their spending. And that means putting their payroll data on the controller’s public website.”


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