A bill passed by the South Carolina Legislature last year required that all school districts provide the spending detail of their budgets online by the end of the most recently concluded school year.
To date, 61 of the state’s 85 school districts have done so, according to information available on the S.C. Comptroller General’s website.
Berkeley County School District was the first to so, last summer, while Marion 7 just notified the Comptroller’s office Tuesday it had completed its spending transparency page.
“I’m expecting a big push here in the next month or so,” said S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, who’s been pressing for increased government transparency for some time.
“It’s my understanding that many of the districts interpreted the proviso as stating that they had until the end of the last fiscal year to starting posting their check registers,” he said. “They may have read that as that they had until the beginning of the new fiscal year to get them up, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.”
Check registers enable taxpayers to review in detail monthly school district expenditures.
Putting the registers online is a cheap and effective way to improve school district transparency.
Once a check register is online, there’s no more waiting for information or having to pay for records, Eckstrom said.
Seven of the 10 largest South Carolina school districts have their check registers online: Charleston County School District, Horry County School District, Berkeley County School District, Aiken County School District, Richland 1, Dorchester 2 and Beaufort County School District.
Among the largest districts, only Greenville County School District, the state’s biggest, along with Richland 2, No. 7 overall in South Carolina, and Lexington 1, No. 9 overall, have yet to place their registers online.
On the other hand, five of South Carolina’s 10 smallest districts have their check registers online: Florence 2, Florence 4, Barnwell 29, Barnwell 19 and Marion 7.
While officials with Greenville County School District and Lexington 1 could not be reached for comment, Richland 2 Public Information Officer Teresa Riley said her school district “is ready and willing to comply with the measure” – once somebody else comes up with the funding.
“There is going to be an initial one-time set-up expense of $2,650 and an annual recurring expense of $2,030.29, and as soon as that funding source is identified we’ll be able to comply,” she said, adding that the funding would come from the comptroller general’s office.
But the legislation doesn’t require the comptroller’s office to fork over funds prior to districts placing check registers online, said R.J. Shealy, office spokesman. Besides, there is no money in the agency’s budget to pay to school districts to put their check registers online, he said.
Like all state agencies, the comptroller’s office has taken a significant budget cut over the past couple years, he said.
“Sixty school districts have done this, and I find it difficult to believe that it’s going to cost one school district thousands of dollars when other districts have done it a lot less cheaply, ranging from the smallest of the small such as Barnwell to large ones like Horry County and Charleston County,” Shealy said.
Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at firstname.lastname@example.org