Lawmaker plans to take action following 5 INVESTIGATES report on buried payouts at school district

A state lawmaker wants to force school districts to be more transparent about legal settlements they reach with employees.

This comes after 5 INVESTIGATES found Minneapolis Public Schools spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle complaints of discrimination and retaliation with hardly anyone knowing.

Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, who sits on the education committee, described being "astonished" by the report that found Minneapolis schools have repeatedly taken steps to keep lucrative payouts hidden from the public.

How did Minneapolis schools use taxpayer money to settle discrimination claims without taxpayers knowing?

"My first reaction was like, ‘Does this really happen?’ And it does," she said. "It’s not right."

Bennett, who spent 30 years in the classroom, believes parents and taxpayers deserve to know where the money is going, including in legal settlements.

"It should not be buried somewhere," she said.

In light of the 5 INVESTIGATES report, Bennett said she is working on legislation that would force school districts to disclose legal settlements.

The report that aired last month found Minneapolis Public Schools took steps to conceal more than $750,000 in payouts to settle claims of discrimination and retaliation since 2013. 5 INVESTIGATES found most of the settlements were never even disclosed at school board meetings.

During Tuesday’s regular school board meeting, the first since the investigation aired, Superintended Ed Graff once again refused to sit down and talk about how the district discloses lucrative payouts.

In an earlier statement, a school spokesperson said the district "makes no attempt to hide this data or reduce its accessibility." Yet, the district refused to explain why settlements include non-disclose agreements or specific language that bars both sides from talking to reporters.

"These legal settlements are sometimes necessary," Bennett said. "But it just needs to be open so people can understand and if districts need to explain it more than that’s ok, too."