A panel of lawmakers advanced a bipartisan proposal today to post K-12 expenditures online in the interest of greater transparency–an idea that was shot down in the legislature a year ago by school districts that said it was too burdensome.
This year’s measure, House Bill 1036, sponsored by Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, differs from last year’s in that it requires school officials to post a downloadable database, deemed less costly than the searchable database called for in the previous legislation.
“This bill will help districts see where they could be saving,” said Scanlan, who added that the greater scrutiny would highlight greater savings for districts.
The bill breezed through the House Education Committee, passing unanimously.
One of the critics of the 2009 version of the bill, the Colorado Association of School Boards, stands behind the new proposal. The organization’s Jane Urschel says the less burdensome database requirement made the difference.
“This year’s bill does not impose an administrative or financial burden,” Urschel said, adding that it still will enlighten parents and other taxpayers. “It will reveal the same information.”
If approved by the full General Assembly, the measure will be phased in. Initially, the posted transactions would include budgets, annual audited financial statements, quarterly financial statements, and salary schedules. In 2011 check registers, credit, debit and purchase card statements would have to be posted publicly. By 2012, investment-performance reports would also be included. The phase-in accommodates the various abilities of large and small districts to implement the provisions of the bill.
Proponents of the reform say it is particularly the provision requiring online disclosure of expenditures, such as thouse incurred through credit and debit cards, that will make a difference in holding local school officials accountable for activities like travel to conferences and school board retreats. Advocates of greater transparency have pointed to lavish or frivolous expenditures over the years–top-flight hotel accommodations or high-dollar meals–as a waste of public-school dollars that could have been spent in the classroom.
HB 1036, called the Public School Financial Transparency Act, contains many of the same provisions as last year’s all-GOP effort by Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Ted Harvey, R- Highlands Ranch. That bill died on a party-line vote in the same committee. Stephens, who also is a co-sponsor on the new bill, and Harvey have reintroduced their bill again this year as Senate Bill 91, which they say would provide an easier way for people to search for and use data in a more meaningful way while including more descriptive characterizations of line items.
Stephens, however, said she would be happy to see HB 1036 pass to achieve increased transparency.