OK. It’s Sunshine Week. 2014. I celebrated first by broadcasting, live, the Hoover Board of Education meeting on Monday, March 17. [No decision yet on charging fees to students who rely upon buses to transport them to and from school.] Now it’s time to share some Sunshine with the rest of the state.
Beginning October 2009, the Alabama State Department of Education required all school districts to post “paid invoices” online. The first “post by” date was December 15, 2009. Here’s the adoption of the rules from the September 10, 2009, minutes of the meeting. Notice “the posting of paid invoices on local boards of education web sites”…..
Here’s an article from The Gadsden Times from October 2009 about the requirement. From the article:
Donna Hagedorn, financial officer for Etowah County Schools, said the state has required school boards to post financial statements and annual budgets on the Internet for more than a year. “The new thing is that they’re going to have us post all checks and invoices paid from the central office,” she said [emphasis added]. “The state is wanting to be more open to the public about what’s going on, as part of the School Fiscal Accountability Act.” Hagedorn said she didn’t expect the new layer of information provision to change much about the way the Etowah County Board of Education operates. It doesn’t require a lot of extra work to post the information online, she said, and it can save time when vendors call, requiring audit reports and other financial statements. Instead of copying and mailing the reports, Hagedorn said she directs vendors to the board’s Web site. Fran Phillips, finance officer for Attalla City Schools, said with other such reports, the state has pulled the required information and returned it to local boards in the file formats required for Web posting. “We just do what we’re required to do,” Phillips said.
Somehow, from the time the idea was put forth in July 2009 to the time those minutes were printed to the time the mandate was implemented, it was changed from posting paid invoices to posting district check registers. That’s a HUGE difference.
PSSST: Even the ALSDE’s October 2009 Alabama Education News states that “paid invoices” will be posted. #stillwaiting
I first reported on the search for check registers (and a whole lot of other information) in May 2009, and again in April 2010. While only one district posted check registers online in 2009, by the time it was required in 2010, 107 of Alabama’s then-132 school districts posted their check registers online.
In honor of Sunshine Week 2014 (easily my favorite week of the year), I churned through 135 school district web sites (and you thought you were having a fun Sunday afternoon, didn’t you?) looking for the January check register.
NOTE: Looking for, and finding, the check register does NOT mean that the document itself is a good, valid, helpful document. The point of the search is only to determine whether our school district officials are following the law. The document itself is not helpful at all. Unless you put ’em all together like this. The state of Alabama’s check registers are searchable….how difficult can that be?
The monthly check register is required to be posted not more than 45 days after the end of the month. Which means Monday, March 17, in the pure, technical sense. I got a head start on Sunday, and then looked again Monday evening after 8 p.m. to see if ones I couldn’t find on Sunday followed the law.
Here are the results:
- Districts having the January (some had February!) 2014 check register online: 102
- Districts whose most current online check register is from December 2013: 23
- Districts whose most current online check register is dated prior to December 2013: 6
- Districts whose check registers cannot be found online: 4
That means that 33 of Alabama’s 135 school districts are not in compliance with state law. That would be a firm middle-C for those who adore percentages (102/135 = 75.5%)
Yes, the names of these districts along with the results of two other searches will be revealed here during Sunshine Week. Stay tuned.
Did I mention this is my favorite week of the year?
FOR MORE INFORMATION, here’s how to find your school district’s check register.