In continued celebration of Sunshine Week 2014, I reviewed all 135 school district web sites on Sunday, March 16, and Monday, March 17, looking for a few specific pieces of information. The results of the search for monthly financial statements is shared in this post. Specifically, the January 2014 set of statements.
The School Fiscal Accountability Act of 2006 requires all school districts to among other things, post a monthly set of financial statements online not later than 45 days after a month’s end. My reviews in 2009 and 2010 showed that of the then-132 districts, 117 met the requirement in 2009 and 107 met the requirement in 2010.
This year, only five districts were more than one month behind. However, 28 of 135 districts had their December 2013 financial statements posted as their most up-to-date financial statement. Which means that only 102 of the now-135 school districts (which is one in every four) were in compliance with the law by the due date of March 17, 2014.
Out of an abundance of fairness, I reviewed those 33 out-of-compliance-district sites one last time on Wednesday to see whether they had the January 2014 financial statements posted. Seven systems posted their statements between Monday night at 8:00 p.m. and Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., leaving 26 systems not in compliance. Or one in five.
Final tally: 109 of 135 systems have posted their monthly financial statements as required in compliance with the School Fiscal Accountability Act. That’s four out of five (which is the same as Alabama’s high school graduation rate, by the way).
So who cares? Is there a penalty for not being in compliance? Well….there actually is a penalty for failure to comply with the School Fiscal Accountability Act:
If an employee or official of a local board of education deliberately, willfully, or wantonly fails to provide the local board of education, the State Department of Education, the State Superintendent of Education, or the Chief Education Financial Officer with accurate information required pursuant to this chapter or pursuant to regulations of the State Department of Education or the State Board of Education, or if the employee knowingly, willfully, or wantonly provides inaccurate information, the employee is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
So the penalty applies when the information provided is inaccurate. No penalties mentioned regarding the timely posting of those statements.
Why post monthly financial statements at all? Apparently someone thought it was important enough to require it back in 2006. And our state legislators and Governor made it a law.
They must have believed that not only is it a good idea to post monthly financial statements, but that 45 days after the end of the month was a good due date.
But if a few days don’t matter, why set a deadline at all? Why not just say “when you get around to it, put the statements up on the web site”?
This is intended to be a quick view of compliance. The reports themselves are mostly useless to the ordinary layperson. It’s a start, but it’s certainly not best practice.
Here’s the table, complete with links and mention of whether the district is in compliance or not. In addition, I have included how many months or at the beginning of which Fiscal Year (FY) the district has available online, whether there is a link to the Financial Reports easily identifiable on the district’s home page, and whether it took more than three clicks to reach the page containing the financial statements.