A plan forcing school districts to post all their expenditures on the Internet was approved by the Idaho Senate Monday after initially being rejected on a close 16-18 vote. After the plan initially failed, Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, used a parliamentary maneuver to change his "no" vote to a "yes." Lt. Gov. Brad Little cast a tie-breaking yes vote to send the plan back to the House.
Hill initially said that the requirement of listing school district expenditures on districts' websites wouldn't increase understanding of school district spending. “I don’t think this will provide transparency,” said Hill, an accountant. “I think this will provide confusion.” Hill said districts’ audited financial records would provide a clearer picture of their fiscal state. He also said posting only expenditures but not revenues could offer distorted views of school activities like football and some clubs.
Later during the Senate's evening session, Hill changed his position, and reopened the vote against the legislation. He said the requirements for school district could lead the state to require other state agencies to disclose similar information online. “If anyone’s entitled to look over the shoulder of the school board or anyone else, it’s the people,” he said. "This seems like a good place to start.”
Earlier in the day, senators approved changes to the plan approved by the House that would have delayed implementation of the plan until December 2011. Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, sponsored the legislation after making the changes that would give districts a year to get ready for the new requirements. Only information available under public records requests would need to be posted. That would exclude personal information, like the home addresses of school district employees. Goedde said the plan would increase transparency.
Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Idaho Falls, spoke against the plan after Hill asked for the second vote. He said he didn't think it's appropriate for people on the Internet questioning every act and decision made by school boards and other elected governmental boards. “It seems to me that we elect our school boards," Coiner said. "If you don’t like what they’re doing, find new school boards.”
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, asked Goedde why the legislation didn’t include any financial help for districts to start posting their records on the Internet. Goedde said the cost wouldn’t be great, and would mirror some districts’ current activity. “A number of districts right now are already performing this function,” Goedde told Werk.
The legislation now heads back to the House, which needs to approve changes made by the Senate to delay the start of the posting requirement.