About 30 people turned out at the state Capitol Tuesday to show their support for a bill from Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, which originally would have required such reports to be posted monthly in a searchable database. [link added]
A memorable line from the bill sponsor:
“If you can’t defend it, don’t spend it,” Harvey said, echoing one of the slogans on the signs at the group’s rally.
Where have I seen that phrase before?
The story ends with a dispute about certain Jeffco Public Schools expenses uncovered by local citizen activist Natalie Menten:
Natalie Menten of Lakewood discovered the $9,861.89 in Starbucks spending after she paid $75 for a CD containing Jefferson County schools’ credit card spending records from January 2007 to August 2008. She posted the information on her Web site, allowing anyone to search for spending in different categories.
Jefferson County schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said the district usually buys catering-style containers of coffee for staff meetings but said employees can’t use the district’s credit card to buy their own individual drinks.
Menten’s database also shows $4,672 spent on eight Carnival Cruise line tickets in February 2008 and $262 spent on three different bowling and miniature golf outings just as classes began in August.
Setzer said the figures are misleading and no taxpayer money was involved.
She said a group of about 20 vocational students went on the cruise accompanied by two teachers to learn more about jobs in the industry but the students were required to pay their own way, including money brought in by fundraisers. The district’s credit card was used for the final payment on eight student tickets in February but the students later reimbursed the district, she said. The district did pay for tickets for two teachers, but it wasn’t clear which tickets those were or how much they cost.
Setzer said the bowling and miniature golf trips were for faculty team building and the district was reimbursed with money from teacher lounge soda machines.
You know what? Detailed online financial transparency would help clear the air about where the money comes from, what it’s being spent on, and the stated purpose of the expenditure. Citizens can decide for themselves whether it’s defensible or not. The fact it took a $75 CORA (Colorado Open Records Act) request to find out this limited information is a troubling issue that legislation could help to fix.
A great letter in today’s Rocky Mountain News by Aurora’s Ken Wyble elaborates:
Educating our students for the 21st century covers a lot of things. Included is that we should recognize that our school system needs to take advantage of 21st century technology to enhance public oversight.
Thatâ€™s just what Senate Bill 57 seeks to do. Rather than costing money, time and a stress headache for citizens who want to see how school administrators spend our tax money, this bill opens up the government checkbooks and credit cards and places them on a searchable Web site.
With todayâ€™s technology, the cost would be a drop in the bucket of total current spending. The watchful eye of the public might even help save a few dollars.
To help restore a true sense of the public involvement in public schools, we canâ€™t go back to becoming the small villages and farm towns of the 19th century. But we can go forward and get average citizens more involved in overseeing our schools by giving them easy-to-access information.
Letâ€™s welcome more people into the debate over which direction we should take education in the future. Letâ€™s take another step into the 21st century with online financial transparency and SB 57.
Transparent government is just plain common sense.