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Editorial: School budgets belong online

Editorial: School budgets belong online

No excuse for districts not to post information that's valuable to taxpayers.
Editorial: School budgets belong online
Galway Senior High School gets roof work in August. The district failed to post its budget.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

On the Galway school district website Wednesday afternoon, there was a large photo of the cast of the school play “Cinderella,” a message touting the energizing effect of a good breakfast, a message congratulating the district’s scholar-athletes from the fall varsity sports teams, a 12-page PDF of the school newsletter and an up-to-date calendar of events.

Click on any other school district website, and you’ll find much of the same.

But on at least some school websites in our area, you won’t find one vital piece of information that’s essential to keeping taxpayers informed about how and where the district is spending the citizens’ money — a copy of the budget, according to a report in Wednesday's Gazette.

A bill signed into law in 2016 (A7675/S5795) articulates a whole list of information school districts must post on their website, including “a final annual budget and any multi-year financial plan adopted by the board of education or trustees.” 

Yet at least a dozen districts in our region still haven’t posted the data.

By not posting their budgets online, districts are deliberately making it difficult for citizens to review details about district spending and revenue sources, to compare and contrast budget priorities within the district and against other school districts, to assess for themselves whether the district is spending too much or too little in an area, and to determine whether their tax dollars are being spent in the way they would like them to be spent.

There’s simply no reason for any district in 2018 not to post budget information online in a complete and timely manner.
If districts have the technological ability to post photos of kids playing field hockey and update the school menu, they can post budget documents.

As evidence of how easily and quickly they can put this information online, some delinquent districts contacted by our reporter on Tuesday morning had already posted their budgets online by Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday.

At the very least, districts should post a copy of the current budget that contains all expenditures. They should also post budgets going back several years. 

If districts also want to include summaries, analysis and explanations of the budgets, as some districts already do, or if they want to make the site interactive, all the better. 

The more information citizens have about school finances and programs, the better prepared they’ll be to question district spending decisions and to demand better results.

Posting budgets on their websites is the least school districts can do. 

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