CRACK THE BOOKS
May 2, 2005
What enterprise wrote checks amounting to $1.6 million for lawyers, $375,000 for various chambers of commerce, $311,000 for professional association fees, $90,000 for Franklin Covey (personal effectiveness and productivity training), $14,500 for Billie Arbuckle Adventures, and $2.7 million for Young Audiences of North Texas (arts and cultural programs)?
These expenditures occurred when the Dallas Independent School District claimed it was "forced" to dismiss several hundred high school teachers because of "inadequate" funding. And when it was suing Texans for more tax dollars.
According to Chris Patterson, director of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation:
- Public schools simply do not keep accounting books that clearly identify how money is spent.
- Although districts make megabytes of financial data available on the Internet, the state's reporting system is so Byzantine that it's impossible for Texans to get a handle on how school spending is directed into true academic outcomes.
School finance reform offers the perfect opportunity to introduce a reporting system that opens the books to taxpayers in a clear, direct way. The Texas Legislature should seize this opportunity to craft legislation that improves school accounting practices. Moreover, say Patterson:
- There must be greater clarity in school spending through more disclosure.
- The accounting ledger must differentiate between expenditures on mandatory, direct classroom costs, and optional programs.
- What cannot happen is the watering down of meaningful reporting with the inclusion of things such as "school leadership," "curriculum development" and "counseling services" as direct instructional costs.
It's time for public schools to crack open the books and end the obfuscation; Texans deserve full, clear access to the information needed to control wasteful spending and improve public education, says Patterson.
Source: Chris Patterson, "Crack the Books: School Accounting Needs Reform, Not Obfuscation," Texas Public Policy Foundation, April 27, 2005.
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