Kershaw County School District recently joined approximately 70 other districts in the state in complying with a state law that requires the posting of check registers online, to enable parents and other individuals to view how tax dollars are spent.
But it didn’t happen without some grumbling.
School board member Jim Smith said during the Aug. 24 meeting of the board’s Facilities and Finance Committee that putting the district’s check register online will only create more work for staff and administrators. He then added that the public should not be allowed to ask questions of district employees regarding expenditures.
“If we do it and we do it like we say, where a layperson can cross reference these things and figure it out, then let them figure it out,” Smith said. “No questions. It’s there. It’s in black and white. That’s the way it is. If you need to know, the explanation of how to get the answer is there – do it.”
Smith pointed to two reasons for his reluctance to makes the district’s financial transactions more transparent: staffing shortages and interference from district critics.
“We just don’t have the time. We just don’t have the time – the staff time, I’m talking about – to answer all these questions,” he said, adding, “The more opportunity you give these folks, the more harassment you’re going to get from them. And a majority of them don’t give a rip one way or the other what happens or that much about children; they just want to harass the superintendent, in a lot of cases, because they don’t like him. That’s just the facts of life.”
Another board member, Mara Jones, said posting financial information on a website does not equal transparency, adding that while she doesn’t oppose complying with state law, she’s unhappy the district will have to bear the expense burden.
The Kershaw County School District, which put its first check register online on Aug. 30, will be sending a request for reimbursement to the comptroller general’s office each quarter, spokeswoman Mary Anne Byrd said.
To date, more than 80 percent of the state’s 85 districts have done so, according to R.J. Shealy, spokesman for S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s office.
“Kershaw County has done it and they’ve done a pretty good job with it,” Shealy said. “The comptroller is pleased with what they’ve produced.”
Unlike Smith, board member Sherri Brosius said she would be happy to answer questions from constituents.
“I would like to talk to people about whatever they have a question about,” she said. “I don’t want them to talk to the administration; if they elected me, they can call me. I’ll talk to them and I’ll tell them what I know.”
Kershaw School District Superintendent Frank Morgan was also more open to the idea of transparency and said his office would handle questions related to how the district spends tax dollars like it would any other request for information.
“We’re going to catalogue it, respond to it, keep a record of the response, just like we do with everything,” he said. “I honestly think that this will do a lot of good in terms of folks seeing what goes on.”
Shealy said most government entities that have posted their check registers online have not seen any increase in calls from citizens with questions about expenditures.
“I think just the act of putting it out there gives people peace of mind,” he said.
Smith, however, essentially said that posting the district’s check register online won’t placate certain individuals within Kershaw County.
“We have a group or a couple of groups of people in our community who are firing questions and doing things just for the glee of harassing the superintendent,” he said. “Anybody in this room who doesn’t know that has their head in the sand.
“My point being, when you put this thing up there, if they don’t feel like doing this research and this cross-checking, all they’re going to do is pick up the phone and ask for this in writing or this and that in writing, or they’re going to put it on a list that they want it in writing.”
Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.