As Sunshine Week 2014 comes to an end, I want to share the results of one more search for reports on Alabama’s school district web sites: the set of reports known as the “Accountability Reports”.
Each year, pursuant to Alabama Act 1995-313, every Alabama school district is required to produce “Accountability Reports”, comprised of three reports: financial statements, achievement results, and the Student Incident Report (SIR) for the prior fiscal year (FY).
Here is the memo sent by Dr. Craig Pouncey, Chief of Staff for the ALSDE, dated December 5, 2013, letting superintendents know that the reports are required to be made available to the “media, parent organizations and your legislators” prior to the end of the calendar year. A certification must be sent to the ALSDE confirming the district has followed the law.
No word on what the penalties are if a district doesn’t lawfully comply.
Curiously, there is no mandate to post these reports online, even though all districts have web sites. But hey, if you have a web site, and you’re already posting all sorts of other stuff online, why wouldn’t you post these reports on your web site?
Accounting for all three reports got a little more complicated this year, as the ALSDE launched a new web site a few weeks ago, and most of the districts that did have something labeled “Accountability Report” had this broken link to the ALSDE’s accountability system. [Here’s the current link.] The ALSDE has told districts that providing a link to the Accountability portal on the ALSDE site would suffice for the achievement report.
Bottom line: I didn’t indicate in the results whether the achievement reports were available. Having struggled with a respiratory illness all week, I am feeling rather generous. Either that, or the lack of oxygen has gotten to me.
About the Actual Reports
Truth be told, the reports themselves really aren’t very useful to the school community.
The financial reports are summative, with no descriptions of the categories.
The SIR report is a simple tally of what kind of incident was reported and what the punishment was. (The Office of Civil Rights data gives a bit more insight, but is less current.)
In other words, just because the reports are mandated to be made available doesn’t mean they offer any substantive information to the public.
Efforts to improve financial reporting continue to be met with resistance at local and state levels, even with tremendous financial pressure facing most local school systems.
One would think that if school district officials wanted to prove their pleas for more money were justified, better financial reporting would be at the top of their list.
Not so, sadly. (The classic Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” is now playing in my head. And no, I won’t stop believing better financial reports are possible.)
For example, look at this information on the Texas Tribune site. Not only financial data, but “fiscal peers”. Fiscal peers? Wow. Though this data, too, is fairly dated. (Pssst: If you’re a data guru and want to help improve financial reporting for school districts in Alabama and have some time to donate, please contact me!)
Results of the Search
Of the 135 Alabama school district web sites:
- 34 districts had both the required financials and the 2012-2013 SIR report posted,
- 14 districts had only the required financial reports posted,
- 3 districts had only the SIR report posted,
- 83 districts had neither report posted,
- 1 district (Alabaster City) was not in operation during FY13.
The table below indicates which districts have the reports online. The link takes you to the page where the “Accountability Reports” were found.
In the “Reports on Site” column, a “y” means both reports are online, “SIR” means only the SIR report is online, and “Financial” means only the financial reports were online.
Where a link to the Accountability Report Page is given, but I have indicated no reports are online, it means either the district did not have FY13 reports or only a notice was posted stating that the public was welcome to visit the Central Office or to a specific school to view the reports.
About the Search
The search was conducted on Sunday, March 16, 2014. As each school district’s web site is organized differently, a number of methods were used to locate Accountability Reports online. As a last resort, I searched for “accountability” and/or “accountability report” using the search function on each web site.
If you find reports online where I was unable to do so, please forward a link to asc(at)alabamaschoolconnection.org and the table will be updated.