Accountability Plan Deep-Sixed

A plan to make school district finances more open has been subject to death-by-committee:

A bill by Rep. Lana Gordon, R-Topeka,  called for the creation of an online system for comparing costs not only of districts but of schools. Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City offered a motion to send the bill to another committee, effectively killing it.

Under the bill, the state board would study how to structure the accounting system. Districts would eventually have to report up-to-date information on each school’s revenues, expenses, balances and other details of operations.

Opponents of the measure include the Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., public school districts.

So what’s the problem?

Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, and a member of the education and government efficiency committees, said information sought by Gordon and other legislators was already available to the public. It is considered public record, he said.

“We’ll be spending millions of dollars so someone can access something on a Web page when they could probably go to a school district and get the same thing,” he said.

Something can be a matter of public record and still not terribly accessible to the public. Putting these records on the Web would be a great way to promote transparency and openness. It would allow a taxpayer and parent in Wichita to easily make comparisions with Lawrence or Kansas City or anywhere else, for example.

And here’s another reason why such a proposal could be useful:

Rep. Jason Watkins, R-Wichita, said the bill would compel school districts to adopt a businesslike approach to reporting use of taxpayer funding.

A line-by-line accounting is a reasonable request, he said.

“If that (concept) sounds familiar to you, you’ve either done accounting work or you’re a business owner,” he said. “Any business that doesn’t have an accounting program like that is doomed for failure.”

Source: House pulls back on accounting system plan, Capital Journal, Marcdh 26, 2007.

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