Senate Committee Contemplates Online School Budgets

Topics: Colorado Association of School Executives, Independence Institute, Natalie Menten, Ted Harvey

January 29, 2009
Face The State Staff Report

Members of the Senate Education Committee are currently considering a bill that proponents say would lend transparency and accountability to Colorado’s school districts.
Senate Bill 57 would require school districts, including charter schools, to create and maintain searchable copies of their budgets on the Web. Two school districts, Durango and Rangely, already post their budgets online. Additionally, local transparency activist Natalie Menten, who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate last year, created her own searchable database of spending for schools in Jefferson County. She said the most expensive part of maintaining the database is paying for copies of the budget, which she obtains through open records requests. Since putting Jeffco’s budget on her Web sit, Menten says she has received “thousands” of additional hits each month.

Bruce Coughy, deputy director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, testified that the bill would be an unfunded mandate on school districts. “In this kind of budget environment that we are facing at the state level, our members are saying ‘please do no harm,’” he said.
Colorado is currently facing a $630 million budget shortfall. Despite a constitutional provision requiring annual funding increases for K-12 education, school districts are still worried about budget cuts.

“The only opposition is that this would be a burden to the administration, and if the citizens want this information they can get it through an open records request,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, the bill’s primary sponsor. “That type of arrogance from government bureaucrats is exactly why the citizens have lost trust in our government and why this bill is important.”

According to Ben DeGrow, an education policy analyst for the Independence Institute, 400 school districts nationwide already put their check registers online in some form or another. He disputed the bill’s $3.3 million fiscal note, saying he spoke to an outside contractor who built a searchable database for a Milwaukee school district with a price tag of $10,000. Colorado has 178 school districts and at this rate, DeGrow says, the bill could be implemented at half the cost of the current fiscal note.

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