Richland 2 Crawls onto Transparency Bandwagon

November 18, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe last of South Carolina’s 80-plus school districts has finally posted its check register online, nearly 1.5 years after being required to do so by a state budget proviso.

Richland School District 2, one of the 10 largest school districts in the state, quietly began posting its check registers online earlier this week, meaning check registers from every district in the state are now accessible via the Internet.

“I’m very happy they finally did this; I’m thrilled,” said Lynn Roth, a Richland 2 parent who has been active in pushing the district to comply with the proviso. “What this means is the district is finally starting to listen to the taxpayers and voters.”

Richland 2’s registers include vendor names, a description of each expenditure, the school or office it was associated with, the amount spent and the date of the transaction.

“You’re still going to have to do some work to see exactly what these expenses are about, but at least we can begin to see where the money is going,” Roth said.

At present, only expenditures and credit card transactions for October 2011 are available on Richland 2’s website. The district began posting the information Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Theresa Riley.

“We’ve been transparent with our financial statements for quite awhile, with such items as our audits being online for quite some time, so this is just one more step,” she said.

The S.C. Legislature passed the budget proviso requiring all school districts to publicize the spending details of their budgets online more than two years ago, and giving the districts until the end of the 2009-10 school year to comply.

Putting registers online is seen as an inexpensive and effective way to improve school district accountability. Online check registers enable taxpayers to review monthly school district expenditures in detail, and once a register is online taxpayers no longer have to wait for information or pay for records.

“I’d like to offer my congratulations to all the state’s school districts for their efforts to make their operations more transparent,” said S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, a proponent of the transparency initiative.

Being committed to transparency involves continually looking for new ways to improve the usefulness of the information available to the public, rather than sitting back after achieving a basic level of accountability, he added.

Richland 2 board members had repeatedly declined to comply with the transparency proviso, insisting that the district would not do so until it was reimbursed by the comptroller general’s office for the costs involved. No other school district had been reimbursed, though

As recently as June, Richland 2 officials said they would continue to wait for financial assistance from the comptroller general before complying, citing an initial one-time set-up cost of $2,650 and annual recurring expenses of $2,030.

At the same time, the district’s budget for the 2011-12 year showed hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for teachers who managed not to miss a day of work during the school year, according to an earlier story reported by The Nerve.

But during an August board meeting, members learned that the costs for posting online had diminished because of automated changes in processing purchasing card statements.

The district reported that the expenses involved with posting registers online had dropped to $2,000 in initial setup costs and $1,000 annually, and that it would comply with the proviso.

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