Capital Region

Despite law, many school districts still have not posted budgets

Spending plans were approved in May
Galway Senior High School gets roof work in August. The district failed to post its budget.
Galway Senior High School gets roof work in August. The district failed to post its budget.

CAPITAL REGION — At least a dozen area school districts had not posted their current year’s budgets on their websites as of Tuesday morning, despite a state law that requires them to do so.

The budgets, which outline how school officials spend millions of taxpayer dollars, are supposed to be posted to school district websites after they are approved in May. But on some district websites, five months into the budget year, the documents could not be found. (Some of those districts were contacted in February about their failure to post last school year’s budget.)

The districts that did not have budget documents posted include: Galway, Duanesburg, Mohonasen and Schalmont. Other districts without clear budget postings included the Gloversville, Northville, Schoharie, Waterford-Halfmoon and Wheelervile districts. While the Schuylerville School District website includes its budget documents from 2014 through 2016, no  budget could be found for this school year or last school year.

“Looking at other districts, we can do a better job, and we are going to do a better job,” said Galway Superintendent Brita Donovan on Tuesday, adding a promise that the district will begin posting more budget information online.

Donovan said the district will publish the budget information, including a line-by-line breakdown of planned expenses, on the district’s website by the end of the week.

Some of the districts posted their budgets Tuesday, after being contacted by The Daily Gazette. Monique Jacobs, spokesperson for Duanesburg schools, said it seemed not all documents migrated over when the district launched a new website earlier this year.

Waterford-Halfmoon Superintendent Patrick Pomerville said the budget document was supposed to have been posted after voters approved it in May, calling its absence an “oversight.” The document was posted to the district’s website Tuesday.

Pomerville said he plans to include the website posting in the district’s budget-development calendar, to ensure the oversight doesn’t happen in future years.

“We are a public entity, and it’s so important to let all of the people in the community know where their tax dollars are going,” he said. “It’s very important for them to know line-by-line where their dollars are allocated.”

Far more area school districts did not have full budgets posted on their websites in February, during the 2017-18 school year, when the Gazette conducted a similar analysis of district websites. Some of those same districts did not have 2018-19 budgets posted this week. Schalmont, for example, has some budget information posted, including a final budget presentation to the school board, but there is no line-by-line accounting of planned expenses, as is required.

Mohonasen budget official Chris Ruberti said on Tuesday there was “definitely no reason that [the budget] would not be posted” on the district’s website. He later said he looked at the website and “didn’t see it where it typically would be,” and he promised it would be posted as soon as possible.

All districts had some budget information posted online, ranging from top-line summaries of total revenues and expenses to detailed presentations and public budget newsletters. But a dozen districts did not go the extra step of posting a full budget document that includes a detailed breakdown of planned expenditures – as the vast majority of their counterparts had.

School officials for the Schalmont, Guilderland, Gloversville and Northville districts did not respond to messages left seeking comment on Tuesday.

A state law passed in 2016 states a clear mandate for districts to post their budgets: “Each district shall post on its website, if any, a final annual budget.” In February, Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, said districts should post “the actual document that contains all the information about every expenditure that will be made.”

Providing easy access to budget documents is a simple step for school districts and one that can benefit districts as well, said Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. If a district has public documents posted online, they do not have to respond to requests for that public information, he said.

“(Budgets are) the first source of information so many people look to when they want to find out what’s going on,” Freeman said. “The school district is the primary source of the local taxes that we pay, and as a consequence, it is important to enable the public to find out how public money is being allocated.”

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