Handful of Districts Hold Out on Transparency

January 7, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveAll but four of South Carolina’s 85 school districts – Dillon 2, Lexington 1, Orangeburg 4 and Richland 2 – have posted their check registers online.

While a 95 percent compliance rate sounds impressive, it’s important to note that state law requiring schools to post their registers online went into effect more than six months ago.

Of the four, Richland 2 and Lexington 1 rank among the 10 largest school districts in the state, with each district enrolling more than 22,000 students.

According to Richland 2 spokeswoman Teresa Riley, “We’ve requested funding from the comptroller’s office but we have not gotten anything yet. Once we do, it will take us about 90 days to implement the transparency.”

The spokesman for S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s office said the agency hasn’t provided funding to any district in the state to assist with transparency efforts and doesn’t have the money to do so.

“From the biggest districts like Charleston County to the smallest like Lee County, they’ve all been able to do this on their own,” spokesman R.J. Shealy said.

Lexington 1 says the district is in the process of purchasing a new software program, and will post its check register once the new system is up and running this summer.

“Our current system simply doesn’t have the same capability as most of the other districts in the state have, which has enabled them to post their registers online,” Lexington 1 spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said.

Until then, the district has been posting monthly budget summaries on its own site, she added.

Check registers enable taxpayers to review monthly school district expenditures in detail.

Putting registers online is seen as an inexpensive and effective way to improve school district transparency. Once a check register is online, taxpayers no longer have to wait for information or pay for records.

In addition to the above holdouts, a handful of districts don’t appear to be keeping their online financial data current, according to information found on their websites.

Three districts – Chester, Florence 2 and Hampton 2 – seem to have no financial information more current than August 2010. Another two – Dillon 3 and Lancaster – look as if they haven’t posted anything since May.

A bill passed by the S.C. Legislature in 2009 required that all school districts post the spending details of their budgets online by the end of the 2009-10 school year.

Richland 2 appears adamant that it won’t comply without financial assistance.

Back in July, district officials said there would be an initial one-time set-up expense of $2,650 related to putting the district’s check register online, and an annual recurring expense of $2,030.29 – money that would have to come from the comptroller’s office.

However, the legislation didn’t require the comptroller’s office to fund the transparency push, and there is no money in the agency’s budget to pay the school districts to put their check registers online.

Like nearly all state agencies, the comptroller’s office has taken a significant budget cut over the past couple of years.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.