School Board still not transparent

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2021

To the editor:

The school board already lost one legal suit and settled another because of its lack of transparency, but this has not yet convinced the superintendent and board to be transparent.

The board wants citizens to believe it is transparent, but it is not.

At the recent public hearing for the school division’s budget, the school board’s chair, in a pre-planned and targeted rant, berated and belittled citizens desiring more transparency in how the school division allocates its $163 million budget. Even though examples of opaqueness abound, the chair seems to think the finances are transparent enough. But they are not.

While trying to defend the transparency of financials, the chair showed her lack of knowledge of the relationship between audits and budgets. She used the past 10 good audits as an example of transparency, but they are not.

There are blank lines in the Bills Paid section of the financial documents where someone would typically place the entity’s name. Blank lines with only dollar amounts are hardly transparent.

The financial document related to credit card purchases provides a simple listing of vendors without descriptive details. To the tune of $194,568 in last month’s report, the six-page document shows purchases from vendors, such as Amazon or Amazon Marketplace, without detail supporting those purchases. I do not see the transparency the chair espouses.

Documents related to the CARES funding does not provide detail about vendors or purchases. One short page for CARES even had computing errors. A one-page financial document laying out the spending plan for CARES should not have mistakes. Mistakes in financials do not represent transparency.

At the end of the meeting on March 11, 2021, the board’s chair indicated that she wanted to wait to post the budget document, another Freedom of Information Act violation. You see, any documents given to the board must be available to citizens at the same time the board receives them. Not later, not when the meeting is over, but at the same time, as required by law. Doing anything other than following the law is undoubtedly a lack of transparency.

Without full transparency of a more detailed budget and financial documents, we cannot know how we spend public dollars to benefit students. Without a transparent budget, a department or grade-level team doesn’t know the amount of money available to support quality teaching and learning in the content areas.

Without classroom allocations, we cannot know whether we support teachers in getting what they need for their classrooms.

Better financial transparency is not challenging, yet the board pushes against it by saying it is already transparent. If you speak publicly about this — even at a budget hearing — you risk the board chair’s wrath. The board has stunted transparency to the detriment of citizens, staff and students.

Deborah Wahlstrom

Suffolk