I about fell out of my chair when I read this local CBS4 TV news story (video also available):
An out-of-state architectural firm has billed an Adams County School District nearly $60,000, for hotels, meals and travel expenses in the last year but the district hasn’t bothered to ask for, or review, a single receipt.
“It’s negligence,” said Kevin O’Brien, a former IRS agent, CPA and business ethics professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “The public has a right to expect there will be some minimum checking on those receipts because its really the public’s money.”
Adams County School District 50 hired Healy, Bender and Associates of Naperville, Ill., last year. The school district enlisted the company to help design a new high school and elementary school and renovate Westminster High School and Ranum Middle School. [emphasis added]
This development is only going to fuel citizens’ distrust of school district management, especially in light of the the Denver Post report that plenty of turmoil already exists over how to spend the $98.6 million bond money approved by local voters in 2006.
Watch the CBS4 news video, if you get a few minutes. Reporter Brian Maass closes with a remark that should inspire gift ideas for School District 50 administrators.
A little more than six months ago, I started writing about and promoting the idea of greater transparency for school district budgets [Note: the link to the Pueblo Chieftain article is dead – if you really want a hard copy of it, I’d be glad to send it to you].
What happened in Westminster (a school district that serves 10,000 students in north metro Denver) provides a perfect example of why school districts should be required to post records of financial transactions online. It would be a vital resource to taxpayers who want to keep tabs on how their local schools are spending their money.
Of course, the push for online government financial transparency is far from original with me. Americans for Tax Reform documents examples of proposals and practices around the country. It’s worth checking out.
Meanwhile, providing its own show of transparency, CBS4 has posted the original Open Records request from Maass to the school district that put this investigation in motion, as well as copies of the architectural firm’s invoices (would it be that hard for the school district to post these online?).