September 2, 2014

USD 231 should promote transparency

There is no good reason USD 231 does not put expense reports, agendas and directors’ reports online for interested patrons to view.
This is especially true at a time when the district’s bond rating was recently lowered by Standard and Poore from AA- to A plus; experienced teachers are being offered early retirement; and many employees are going without raises.
Although some patrons are calling for an outside audit, the best audit is public scrutiny. Gardner city has made some good, and relatively inexpensive, steps towards transparency by making most reports available online, as well as videotaping meetings.
USD 231 should follow suit.
Expense and time involved putting the information online should be minimal, and it would minimize what officials consider “burdensome” individual patron requests for information. School district officials currently require patrons to file an open records request and pay for time and copies. Government entities are stewards of public documents, not owners, and Kansas law requires all records be open, with some specific exemptions, such as confidential student or employee information.
The district’s current policy is a barrier to transparency.
Under the Kansas Open Records Act, The Gardner News obtained copies of the district’s monthly expenses, excluding debt and payroll, for the first quarter. Expenses in January were about $740,000, February $1.1 million and March, $1.3 million. The complete reports are available online at  www.gardnernews.com.
Although we’re sure the itemized expenses are legitimate and documented, we wonder at the need for so many trips to Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot or Costco and numerous lunches (including a $314 meal at Zio’s) especially when parents are being nickled and dimed to death through increased student fees and lunches.
Rather than cutting back on experienced teachers by offering early retirement, it seems the first place to reduce expenses might be tightening the belt on incidentals. There’s a difference in wants and needs.
We need good experienced teachers and student supplies. District staff wants to eat at Johnny’s, Houlihans and Zio’s, to name a few. Consolidating purchases might also result in savings.
The first step toward getting out of debt is to acknowledge it.
There is no good reason USD 231 administration and school board are not more forthcoming with public documents.
Except they don’t want to be.

Comments

  1. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    I encourage USD231 taxpayers, patrons and parents to review the minutes of the monthly School Board meetings and decide for themselves if they are being kept well informed about district activities and learn what our administrators are doing during each 4-week period between public meetings. During board meetings, school administration directors offer no monthly activity report or refer to a written report presented to board members but not provided to the public. usd231.org/webUSD231/Forms/SubPage.aspx?menu=96_212_1

    A note on the webpage states, “minutes of previous meetings are not posted until after the next subsequent meeting, as they are not officially approved until that time.”

    Minutes of the March 6, 2012 Board meeting are posted, but do not include supplemental information on two action items that were clearly noted would be attached and made a part of the minutes.

    Minutes of the April 2, 2012 meeting, approved by the Board during their May 7 meeting, have still not been posted. Readers are advised, “For a summary of the last Board Meeting, please click on Board Briefs,” which basically provides the previously published meeting agenda with the word “approved” added after each action item.

    I cannot recall ever seeing the words “Not Approved” appear on any posted minutes. Call me skeptical, but seven elected board members unanimously agreeing on every vote on every item presented by school administrators at every meeting with minimal or no open discussion or debate during public meetings is not my idea of responsible and transparent stewardship of district taxpayers’ money.

    School board members serve four-year terms; they are not paid for their service to the district. Board positions come up for election on a rotating basis. General elections for school districts are held the first Tuesday in April in odd numbered years.

    Three school board member positions will be on the April 2, 2013 general election ballot. The three incumbents will have been seated on the board collectively for 20 years. The remaining four seats will be on the 2015 ballot; those four incumbents will have sat in their chairs for a collective 56 years.

    All too frequently, incumbent school board members have run for reelection unopposed. There are no term limits for board positions, but I suggest it is time we see some new faces at board meetings. I hope voters will see some fresh names added to the 2013 and 2015 ballots and hear some healthy and vigorous debate before each election.

  2. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    I meant to say, “…school administration directors FREQUENTLY offer no monthly activity report or refer…”

  3. Well said, Mr. Kellogg. I find it interesting (and quite telling) that nearly all issues/requests under consideration by the Board are given much discussion. Questions are very infrequent, and NO votes (from any board member) are even more rare. The lack of transparency is extremely disappointing. Do the kids really come first?

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