Needed: More Sunshine on School Budgets

More and more easily-searchable, easy-to-understand government budgets are going online across the country. Some are being posted by private organizations tired of foot dragging by public servants. In N. Dakota, a state-focused think tank undertook the “Sunshine on Schools“ project and placed online the budgets of all K-12 school districts in the state. In addition to basic district information, the website contains historical data, and teacher and administrative salaries. Further, it tracks categorized revenue and spending back to 1985. NDPC proposed to state lawmakers in 2007 that school districts be required to do this; the feedback from legislators and school administrators: There weren’t enough funds. Interestingly, NDPC accomplished the job for some $35,000. Propose this idea to your local Oregon school district; if you get the same “no funds” answer, point them in the direction of The Peace Garden State.

  • RinoWatch

    There still needs to be more ‘Sunshine” on the Hillsboro School budget which has allowed (and is still paying) 10 plus million dollars to be paid out of their General Fund for the “Taj-Mahal”.

    The “Taj” is what the districts administration building is commonly referred as.

    The Millions of dollars of expenditure for the “Taj” was allocated Without Voter approval…..

    • Jerry

      But Rino – they NEED a safe, comfortable workplace. After all, they are working almost half the calendar year! I don’t want them to be uncomfortable. If they were, our childrens would suffer, as their planning and such like would not be up to par.
      If anything, the building is probably not nice enough. And I don’t want to know what it cost. It is for the childrens – so we must not even think of the cost. It will much more expensive later if we do not educate all the peoples’ childrens now to the best of our ability.

  • Bob Clark

    I would like government jurisdictions to make available income and balance sheet statements, tailored after accounting board standards followed by corporations. I know corporations play games with the numbers sometimes, but for the most part they do give a starting basis for financial discussions and skepticism. There’s not as much clarity in government financial reports. For instance, the city of Portland recently reported a revenue surplus for fiscal year 2007 but it also reported later on defaults by borrowers of Portland Development Commission funds much larger than the reported surplus. Also, the only way you can get to a debt figure for the city is to peruse its various bond issuance prospectuses and total various categories of indebtedness such as Jack’s Blog has done.

    • Steve Plunk

      Bob’s got a good point. The present way of accounting for governmental entities falls short in it’s primary responsibility to be of use to taxpayers or owners. The AICPA should take up the challenge to improve governmental accounting so laymen take make sense of what goes on.

      Of course even with change the devil is in the details and getting the details is a extra chore. Unless you can get in and look at the individual expenditures there is always a chance of items being hidden through the system. The transfers between funds and different sources of revenue all make things difficult but an attempt to make it better is long overdue.

      Any CPA’s out there want to chime in?

  • Garage Wine

    From the Chalkboard Project website:

    “The Open Book$ project, now in its second phase, provides the kind of accountability Oregonians want. You can find out how your school district spends its money, compare it to other districts of similar size and see how your district compares to state averages.”

    It looks like the Open Book$ project’s website is broken, though …

    • Anonymous

      Why do you say it is broken? Works splendidly!

  • Rupert in Springfield

    As a business or individual you are required to keep financial records the government can check just to make absolutely sure the extract every dime from you, but for some reason they see no reason to provide the same service in reverse. That’s to be expected, government has a tendency to exempt itself from every rule it passes upon its subjects.

    What is interesting however is governments continued surprise when the citizens are reticent to approve every bond measure, national health care plan, inane program or “just once more please just another tiny weenie tax increase” that pops into their heads.

    Every now and then my head goes back to the days of yore and good old Barbara Roberts. For several years that woman spent money going all over the state to have her “Conversation with Oregon” so that she could enact a sales tax. Well, what a surprise, after the dog and pony show, Babs pipes up with “Oregonians have expressed to me they are ready for a sales tax”. We all know the rest. Can you imagine that? Spending four years of your life, being governor, convincing yourself you were talking to people, but really you are only trying to reinforce your psychosis that Oregonians wanted a sales tax. God what a loser.

    • Jerry

      How dare you malign someone with such good intentions!

      She was a stellar governor. You are just mad because she was a powerful, strong, effective FEMALE who cracked the glass ceiling all by herself.

      And it is not her fault that Oregonians were and still are too stupid to know that a sales tax will solve everything!

  • eagle eye

    And I would point the poster in the same direction. If it’s so cheap, and so valuable, do what they’ve done privately in North Dakota.

    There may be some value in doing this, but personally, I doubt that posting this kind of information can help the schools much.

    We already know the main outlines: Oregon has large classes, relatively high teacher pay. The student performance is about average given the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup.

    There’s not much in the budgets of the local high schools or grade schools that is going to tell me much more than that. Or make the schools better.

    Any positive change, if such is possible, is going to come from somewhere else.