Wednesday, March 10, 2004

No. 3 in a series on school finance



Taxpayers have bent over backwards, and then some, to buy our public schools an incredible array of computers and information systems.

So why in the Sam Hill aren't we making them use technology for our benefit, and tell us how they're spending our money?

Public schools are pathetically ''unaccountable'' in their financial dealings because of an uninformed public. That's partly our fault, for putting up with the secrecy in public education for so long. But these days, it's downright ridiculous, given the advances in technology that they could be using to inform us better -- technology we bought for them, after all.

It's long past time for school districts to be posting a record of the checks they cut for all to see . . . especially the people who provide the money to cover those checks, which is us mice.

Small-town schools use to publish their checkbooks in the local weekly newspaper, a smart and great way to keep everything on the up and up.

We could go back to that at a nominal cost where it makes sense. Or, in larger districts, we could assign a couple of students in computer class or business class to design a simple spreadsheet to show the amount of each expenditure, who to, what for, and a memo for what budget category it's in. All kinds of other helpful information could be reported as well. It would make a slick senior project for some student or group of students to input on a regular basis.

Would this boring financial data be of interest only to cranky old retirees with nothing better to do? Well, gee. Cranky people are GOOD when they can help hold the line on overspending and save our tax dollars. Maybe this could give them some PURPOSE in life, to be the watchful, productive citizens we truly need to make our schools the best they can be -- which, in anybody's book, includes cost-effectiveness.

Publishing school expenditures would go a long way toward eradicating the unconscionable and the goofy:

-- Placing early-retirement buyout costs under “Board of Education.”
-- Counting administrative costs as ''costs of instruction.''
-- Paying $1,000 for a secretary’s office chair.
-- Sending the staffer who happens to be the union representative to an education conference that happens to be in Boca Raton, Fla., in the dead of winter.

And on and on and on.

All it would take to get this going in your district is a school-board resolution. How 'bout it?

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