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Loopholes in Penn State's list of highest salaries

Plus: Gray areas in Pa. mail voting law, and Penn State sports' economic impact.


October 6, 2022
Inside this edition: Loopholes in Penn State's highest-paid employee list, mail voting gray areas, police regionalization, and the PSU sports boon.
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List Loopholes
Craig Houtz / For The Inquirer

Penn State’s James Franklin makes $7 million a year. Why doesn’t he show up on its list of highest-paid employees?

The Penn State Transparency Tracker is an ongoing effort by Spotlight PA to document and share the ways in which the university is, and is not, being transparent with the community. Due to its special “state-related” designation, Penn State is not subject to open records laws beyond the public disclosure of basic financial information.

Unlike nearly all of its Big Ten counterparts, Penn State does not have to publicly disclose the salaries of its employees.

However, under Pennsylvania’s transparency law, Penn State does have to publicly report the salaries of all “officers and directors” and “the highest 25 salaries paid to employees of the institution.”

Last fall, Penn State’s head football coach, James Franklin, received a new 10-year contract extension making a guaranteed $7 million each year. Franklin was the highest-salaried employee on Penn State’s top-25 list for the fiscal year 2019-2020. The next year, however, he wasn’t included on the list at all.

According to Penn State’s latest publicly available tax filing, covering fiscal year 2020-21, three university employees were paid more than $1.6 million during that fiscal year but did not appear on the top-25 list of highest-salaried employees. Those employees include Franklin at $7.6 million, former men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers at $2.1 million, and former assistant football coach Brent Pry at $1.6 million. 

Curious why the coaches weren’t on the top-25 list, Spotlight PA asked Penn State the following questions:

1. Penn State’s 2022 Right to Know report does not include the salaries of Penn State coaches (James Franklin, for example) who were included in previous top 25 lists. Why are the salaries of Mr. Franklin and other potential Penn State coaches left off of the top 25 list? Do their salaries no longer meet the top 25 threshold?

2. The university’s Public Reports website states, “Among the employees listed within the filing, only the compensation of University officers is paid from funds provided principally by tuition and/or Commonwealth appropriation. The compensation of the other employees is provided from self-supporting entities (Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center or Intercollegiate Athletics) that do not use funding from Commonwealth appropriations or student tuition.” Can you please provide the legal justification for not reporting the compensation of all top university employees? I do not see this kind of exception to reporting in Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.

Penn State responded in an email:

“The relevant coaches’ salaries are listed on p. 12 of the 2022 RTK report,” Wyatt DuBois, assistant director of university public relations, wrote. “The text you shared from the website simply notes the funding sources for the salaries of the officers and other employees listed in the report.”

Seeking clarity, Spotlight PA followed up with these questions:

Why are the other names on p. 11-12 of the 2022 RTK report (Barron, Dunham, Gray, Jones, Massini, Barbour) repeated in Section 2 or Section 3 of the report but the coaches are not? If the Section 3 list is to be a list of the top 25 salaries not already mentioned on the 990, why is there repetition?”

Penn State responded in an email: 

“The Right-to-Know report includes two lists of the university’s highest-paid employees: Form 990 is an IRS report and Sections 2 and 3 are a state report,” DuBois wrote. “The pay listed for employees on Form 990 is defined by the IRS as wages, which includes base salaries, bonuses, incentive payments and other income. The pay listed for employees in Sections 2 and 3 includes base salaries only. The individuals who are listed among the highest paid employees on Form 990 but not listed in Section 3 of the RTK report are not reported in Section 3 because their base salaries fall outside of the top 25 highest base salaries.”

Based on that exchange, here’s what you need to know:

During the period covered in Penn State’s latest tax filing, Franklin’s base salary was $500,000 with $6.5 million in guaranteed supplemental pay. The lowest salary on the list was $662,000. Similarly, other coaches' base salaries don’t crack the top 25 and are no longer on the university-produced list.

Help support the Penn State Transparency Tracker by submitting tips or questions to wmassey@spotlightpa.org. You can also share documents and other materials to help make our reporting more robust. Read more about sharing such information here

Wyatt Massey, Penn State investigative reporter

🗳️ Election Center
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on...

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» Everything you need to know about requesting, filling out, and returning your mail ballot

» Unresolved gray areas in Pa. mail voting law likely to spur fresh confusion, legal challenges

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» How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

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Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

» Todo lo que necesita saber para solicitar, llenar y devolver su voto por correo

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» Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos al Senado, a gobernador y a otros cargos

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📷 Local Gem
Pollinators captured on film at The Arboretum at Penn State's Pollinator and Bird Garden — via @cmtasch. Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
📰 In Other News
» Centre County residents feel misled about State College Area Connector Project. Here's why (Centre Daily Times)

» What economic impact do Penn State football, other sports events have on Centre County? (Centre Daily Times)

» 'Legal purgatory.' How a Centre County case could change DUI penalties in Pennsylvania (Centre Daily Times)

» Old Lycoming officially approves police regionalization 

» Mobility and Connectivity Plan Looks to Future of Transportation Network in State College (StateCollege.com)
📅 Events
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Oct. 7-8: The Arboretum at Penn State hosts its annual Pumpkin Festival, featuring a lighted jack-o'-lantern display.

» Oct. 7-8: Craft vendors, wagon rides, live music, and more highlight Way Fruit Farm's Harvest Craft Festival.

» Oct. 8: Rooted Farmstead, a flower farm near Bellefonte, hosts its Fall Market with pop-up vendors, pumpkins, mums, and more

» Oct. 9: Enjoy artisans, turkey legs, sword fighting, and more at the Boalsburg Renaissance Faire.

» Oct. 9: Downtown State College hosts its Happy Valley Latin Festival.
🧩 The Puzzler
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, "spotlight" also forms "stoplight."

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

Good luck!

Last week's answer: Shoes

Congrats to Jessica C., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Martha D., Warren D., Tish M., Donna D., Lauri R., Thomas S., and Linda A.
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