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Imagine you're a shareholder in a business and you find out one day that a top company official is no longer there.

His office is dark and empty, his desk is cleaned off and there's someone else assigned to do his work.

You then find out that you're continuing to pay this person's salary and benefits, even though they're not working any longer.

You have no idea why they've been removed or why your money continues to be used to pay them.

And when you ask what's going on, the board of directors tells you, "It's none of your business."

As a stockholder and investor in this company, you'd be pretty ticked off, right?

Well, school districts do this to their shareholders - the taxpayers - all the time.

Most recently, two local school districts have taken disciplinary action against top employees, suspending them for an undisclosed reason while continuing to pay them their full salaries and benefits.

In Salem last month, the school board voted to place outgoing Superintendent Charles Kremer on administrative leave - allowing him to collect his full $132,000 annual salary and benefits until his planned departure on May 1. The district said he was placed on leave "pending an investigation of concerns."

And last week, the local BOCES board placed Bill LeForestier, principal of the F. Donald Myers Education Center, on paid administrative leave until his retirement becomes effective on June 30.

Like Kremer, he was allowed to collect his full salary and benefits while he was on "administrative leave."

In both cases, when asked why these officials were forcefully removed from their jobs while still being allowed to collect taxpayer money for sitting at home, officials said to the shareholders of their respective school districts, "It's none of your business."

You're paying the bill for an employee not to work. You're paying someone else to do that person's job. Yet it's none of your business why that person has been removed.

The problem is so-called, "confidentiality agreements," which public employees and school boards write into contracts, allowing them to subvert the state Freedom of Information Law and giving boards an excuse for not saying why an employee is being disciplined.

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The Open Meetings Law allows a government body to discuss in secret "matters leading to the ... promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person ..." The key words in that sentence are, "leading to." Once the action has been taken, it's no longer protected.

Some might argue that because the individual is being suspended while an investigation is taking place, that's a legitimate reason not to disclose the reason.

Really?

What if a suspended employee was under investigation for hitting a child? Or stealing money? Or sexually harassing employees? Or just refusing to perform the duties of his job?

Isn't that information you as a taxpayer and a shareholder in that district have a right to know - especially if you're continuing to pay that person? If a school district feels an action taken by a superintendent or principal is so egregious that it requires this person to be suspended from work while the investigation is going on, then that action is certainly important enough to the people who are affected to share with them the reason.

Under the state Freedom of Information Law, once a disciplinary action is taken, that action is no longer protected and it becomes public information. If you're a nurse or a doctor or lawyer or some other profession, your disciplinary action is public information. Why not superintendents and principals?

Suspending an employee is a punitive action. And the public has a right to know the details.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen member Roger Guglielmo.

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