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Committee sends school district transparency bill to House

Committee sends school district transparency bill to House

Dustin Hurst
March 16, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 16, 2010

A bill that requires school districts to post financial data online has received approval from the House Education Committee, though opponents of the bill say it will negatively impact more rural school districts in the state.

The legislation is the product of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and would require that by the end of 2010 school districts with more than 300 students put their check registers on a website for the public to view.  By the end of 2011, school districts would need to develop the website into a searchable form, which Hart says would provide easy access to citizens.

In his testimony before committee members, Hart said that his bill needs tweaking because people with whom he has talked with about the legislation have said that the language contained in it would require school districts to create a complicated and extensive online database, which he said was not his intent.  He testified that he wants districts to be able to post the information in  PDF or Microsoft Excel forms, which would keep hours spent on the project for districts at a minimum.  He estimated that the process that he envisions would only require school staffers a few hours per month.

Several at the hearing lined up to testify against the legislation, including Wayne Davis, representing the Idaho Association of School Administrators, who said the bill is unnecessary in a time when schools have too much to do with less-than-adequate funding.  Davis told lawmakers that when purchasing supplies, as many as five people can see and approve purchase orders, which aids in reducing school fraud and waste.  David added that checks for schools often pay for multiple items with one payment form, which could make the process of posting the information increasingly difficult for school officials.

"It's not as easy as you think," warned Davis.

Several legislators sided with Davis, including Rep. Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, and Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, in decrying the burden on school districts.  Boe and Black both argued that in a time when school budgets are being cut and schools are forced to increase class sizes to save money, Hart's bill is a waste of school time and money.

"We're giving them more things to do with less money to do it, and I think that’s wrong," said Black.

"This will impose a huge burden … at a time when the budgets are so stringent, so difficult for our districts to deal with," said Boe, who later said the bill will cause districts "an extreme hardship."

Wayne Hoffman, with the Idaho Freedom Foundation (see disclosure note at bottom), urged lawmakers to support government transparency through Hart's legislation.  He said that Idaho ranks near-last in transparency efforts and citizens with more information about local government spending will often make more informed decisions when school bonds or levies are proposed.   Hoffman was also critical of those who claimed the process of posting the information would create a burden for districts, saying that in his work to bring transparency to the state through OurIdaho.com, he has found that though districts usually "pitch a fit" over the costs at the beginning of the process, they usually find that costs are much less than originally estimated.

Before the vote, Hart called on lawmakers to approve the legislation for the benefits of citizens.

"A couple of hours a month is not much to ask for the benefit of the taxpayers," said Hart.

Boe moved to hold the bill in committee because of the cost to districts, but her motion was never voted on.  The committee did, however, send the bill on to the House general orders, where it will undergo some changes.  Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said that in general orders, the bill will be changed to ensure that the posting process for district officials will not become overly complex.

(Note: IdahoReporter.com is a product of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.  No employees of IdahoReporter.com testified at the hearing.)

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