Without mechanisms like online check registries, taxpayers have little opportunity to see exactly how districts spend their money. Even under the Freedom of Information Act, interested parties may find that “free” information can be quite expensive.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responses from the seven school districts in Spartanburg County show just how inaccessible district spending information is to concerned members of the community.
In June, a watchdog group sent out a FOIA request to every school district in the state requesting detailed information about district travel costs, reimbursements, payments to educational contractors, and catered meals. These expenses should already be categorized by district bean-counters who would simply need to print off the ledger spreadsheets.
Here is a list of how much money each of the seven districts required to fulfill the Freedom of Information Act request.
Spartanburg School District 1: $2,205.00 for copies, “clerical costs,” “professional costs,” and postage
Spartanburg School District 2: $1,970-$6,770 for copies, clerical, “management” costs, and “outside auditor.”
Spartanburg School District 3: $2,764 for copies and “analysis.”
Spartanburg School District 4: $2,000 for retrieving, copying, and postage.
Spartanburg School District 5: $625
Spartanburg School District 6: $ $2,470.64 for time and copies
Spartanburg School District 7: $945 for copies, clerical and management costs
$2,000 for “free” information about how public money is being spent?! This is simply absurd.
School districts are supposed to act as stewards of taxpayer resources, not autonomous, unaccountable bureucratic entities. When these publicly- funded districts withhold information through extensive bureaucratic red tape, they undermine their own purpose: educating children. The varying and arbitrary amounts demanded by the Spartanburg school districts indicate just how out of touch they are with the economic realities faced by business and families in the community.
Additionally, these costly demands and delays in response point to total financial disarray within the districts. What business owner is not able to hit the “print” key on their computer and clearly provide information on the business’s expenses, costs, and profits for the year? Without the pressure of real transparency and accountability, public school districts have nothing compelling them to be able to do likewise. Funding will still come pouring in regardless of poor performance or financial mismanagement.
The next time parents wonder why only 45 cents of every dollar set aside for education goes to the classroom, they can be reminded that the other 55 cents goes to fuel the cumbersome bureaucracy that can’t provide them free copies of the district they pay for.