Using FOIA to chart CT school superintendents’ pay

Headline: Connecticut superintendents' salaries
Outlet: Middletown PressRegister Citizen
Journalist: Viktoria Sundqvist
Tags: ,

Viktoria Sundqvist got off to a good start in her new job as investigations editor for the Middletown Press and Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn.: She won a DFMie on her first project.

Sundqvist’s project obtaining and analyzing the contracts for every school superintendent in Connecticut won the DFMie for the Northeast cluster of Digital First Media for December. (Coverage of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School will be recognized in a separate post on Monday.)

Connecticut Editor Matt DeRienzo explained Sundqvist’s project in his nomination:

Viktoria … obtained the employment contract of every public school superintendent in Connecticut through Freedom of Information Act requests and then worked with the new data team at Thunderdome to build a searchable, interactive database showing salary and benefits trends by town/region, with links to every contract. Here’s Vik’s summary of the project.

She wrote numerous stories analyzing the data, and even customized articles for each of our publications across the state. Early in the process, she also wrote articles rating the school districts on how quickly they responded to the FOIA requests and whether they made it difficult, i.e., by asking why we wanted the contracts or charging for copies.

Judges loved the watchdog aspect of the project and the enterprise it showed:

An ambitious undertaking to catalogue the salaries of school superintendents across Connecticut employing FOIA requests. The map gives an easy, quick scan of the state then is clickable to go deeper into the data. Readers should find this information useful and easily accessible. Hopefully the investigative team will continue to build on this data by adding information on average teacher salaries, student performance on standardized tests and growth or declines in graduation rates, which can help evaluate whether a superintendent is worth the pricetag.

Another judge added:

With all the country-wide — largely misplaced — rage against teacher’s unions; a cold hard look at the top “administrator” is a welcomed, and eye-opening counterbalance.

Especially like the cost per student column: $672 per student? That’s a ridiculous, and useless, expenditure toward “education.” You could buy an iPad and more for each student in that district. Comes close to the “afflict the comfortable” mission of true journalism.

The integration code (between map an table) being worked on will be a useful and welcomed tool; can’t wait for more database stories. This changes dry figures into an essential story that affects every parent, student and taxpayer in Connecticut.

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