In wake of DN column, Ackerman locks down school salary data

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

Days after a Daily News columnist wrote about the high salaries of School District Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and several of her top deputies - with salaries higher than those of Mayor Nutter and Gov. Rendell - Ackerman moved to limit the number of district employees able to access the district's payroll system.

The clampdown resulted in hundreds of employees in the human resources, accounting, and budgeting offices being shut out of "global access" to the HR and payroll system as of last Thursday, sources said.

But district employees weren't the only ones shut out. The City Controller's Office learned Friday that it had lost access after an auditor found he was locked out, said spokesman Harvey Rice.

"I don't believe they can do that where we need free and unfettered access to test the data we have to audit," Controller Alan Butkovitz said yesterday.

"Secondly, the salaries are a matter of public record. They are public information and should be available."

A district employee said about 300 employees had access to the payroll system as of last Wednesday. "But by Thursday, only two people in budgeting had access," said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous.

The employee said people are angry because they can't do their jobs and now must wait for someone with "global access" to retrieve data for them.

Phil Goldsmith, a former interim district chief executive, wrote in the Daily News July 29 that Ackerman, hired at $325,000, recently received a 4 percent raise to $338,000, while, he said, city and state officials have refused raises or have taken pay cuts because of financial conditions.

The column noted that Ackerman makes more than superintendents in Chicago ($230,000), New York and Los Angeles (both $250,000). The column also pointed to Ackerman's top deputies who make more than Nutter and Rendell.

Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch ($226,600), Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery ($230,000), and Chief Counsel Michael A. Davis ($190,000) make more than Nutter ($167,440) and Rendell ($175,000).

Three days after the column was published, a district official sent an e-mail obtained by the Daily News seeking a "justification for all users within your department who have global access" to the HR and payroll system. By Thursday, access for all but a handful of high-level employees was shut down, sources said.

In a statement issued late yesterday, Lisa Mastoon, the district's public-information officer, said: "As a result of a security breach, the District conducted a review of access to the personnel records of 26 thousand employees. We found almost 500 staff members had access to sensitive personnel records including salary and benefit information.

"Last week it was decided that senior managers must justify all employees in need of 24-hour access to global employee information. This new policy and system will remain in place until new and improved technology infrastructure has been adopted and implemented."

Barry Fox, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, confirmed that payroll data for all public employees is public information, with certain exceptions. "Their internal procedures and polices are up to them," Fox said.

"But if it's requested, all [payroll] records are public under the Right to Know Law."