What Do Your Public School Officials’ (Including Your Board!) Statements of Economic Interests Reveal?
With this being budget season and all, it is good to know that if you have any questions about what kinds of economic interests any of your public school officials have, you might find the answers in this handy-dandy online database.
Before we go any further, you have to promise that you will be responsible with the information you learn through your search. One of the reasons our Alabama officials cite for not wanting to share information with the public is that we beat them over the head with the information. The information you find is only relevant inasmuch as it relates to or influences the way public school officials conduct themselves and/or the business of the schools and districts.
So let’s please be responsible.
And if the information reveals something you find questionable, you should certainly ask questions. That is precisely the reason it is made available to the public.
Who Must File SOEIs?
§36-25-14 of the Code of Alabama delineates all requirements regarding SOEIs, including which public school officials and employees are required to file. Where public education is concerned, these are the folks who must file:
- City and county school superintendents and school board members,
- City and county school principals or administrators,
- Every full-time public employee serving as a supervisor, and
- Any public employee whose base pay is more than $75,000 per year.
Please note that my research has uncovered that some public school employees, e.g., football coaches, have avoided the filing requirement because their base pay is less than $75,000 annually, disregarding any additional money earned through supplements and or other contracted services.
What Information Is Contained in an SOEI?
According to §36-25-14 of the Code of Alabama, the SOEI must include:
- the name, residential address, business; name, address, and business of the living spouse, and dependents of the public official or public employee required to file, as well as the name of living adult children, the name of parents and siblings, name of living parents of the spouse.
- a list of occupations to which one-third or more of working time was given during the previous reporting year by the public official, public employee, or his or her spouse.
- a total combined household income of the public official or public employee from sources such as salaries, fees, dividends, profits, commissions, and other compensation. The income is to be listed and broken down into categories depending on the amount.
- in addition, if the public official or employee or his or her spouse has, during the last reporting year, engaged in a business which provides legal, accounting, medical or health related, real estate, banking, insurance, educational, farming, engineering, architectural management, or other professional services, then the filing party is required to report the number of clients of the business in each of several categories. These categories are set out in §36-25-14(b)(4) of the Ethics Law.
What If a Public School Official Who Should File an SOEI Doesn’t?
Reports are due by April 30 of each year. A penalty of $10 for each day the report is late, up to $1,000, can be levied by the Ethics Commission. Note that the fine is not automatically levied. The Ethics Commission must decide to levy the fine.
In addition, “a person who intentionally violates any financial disclosure filing requirement of this chapter shall be subject to administrative fines imposed by the commission, or shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, or both.”
However, if a public school official/employee “unintentionally neglects” to include required information, they have 90 days to file an amended SOEI without incurring a penalty.
How Do Public School Officials Learn About the Requirements Under the Ethics Law?
The Ethics Commission created a 55-minute video to train public officials on the requirements of the Ethics Law. The public official can either view the video online or order a copy of the DVD. Once the video is viewed, the training requirement under the Ethics Law is considered satisfied. Training is only required once for public school officials.
Board of education members are given 120 days after being seated to complete the training.
Public school officials required to file SOEIs are given 90 days to complete the training.
Again, Please Be Responsible
We public consumers of public information shared by public officials, must continue to be responsible with the information we find. We don’t have to be experts. We don’t even have to understand everything we find. And our public school officials should certainly be willing to answer any questions we have about publicly-available information.
As always, if you need me, you can find me at asc(at)alabamaschoolconnection.org.