Anthony Independent School District: Committed to Transparency and Its Community
Big Transparency for Small Local Governments
Fred Herrera, Anthony ISD chief financial officer, offers key steps that small to mid-size local government entities should consider when beginning the transparency process:
- Define the objectives with the administrative team since they are the ones that will be impacted. They are responsible for providing complete and accurate data.
- Set a launch date.
- Define the target group(s).
- Identify the type of information that is relevant and how to present it in an easy to understand format (type of data, how often will it be compiled, who is responsible for data quality, how questions from the public will be addressed).
- Launch the site.
Since January 2007, the Anthony Independent School District (ISD) has published its budget, monthly financial reports and check register for public viewing and downloading.
The rural district north of El Paso has traditionally had a strong relationship with the community. As a result of the district leaders' strong desire to be open about its business, the ISD posts its Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) report online, too. The FIRST report is presented during a public hearing, but isn't required to be posted on the district's website.
Another sign of the district's commitment to transparency is its effort to better connect with students and parents by providing an Apple laptop to 221 high school students. Many of these families would not otherwise have access to school district resources online.
Fred Herrera, Anthony ISD chief financial officer, says the transparency effort was implemented by existing staff and did not affect the district budget. The finance department staff checks the data to be posted and posts it in standard PDF format. According to Herrera, the initial setup took “less than one week.”
“The board report and check register is simple to create since it is a byproduct of the district's monthly closing process,” Herrera says. His staff identifies and removes any items that may be considered confidential. For example, they redact protected information, such as social security numbers, before the documents are published online.
These transparency efforts have saved district staff time and effort in answering requests for public records. It has also reduced printing costs. However, according to Herrera, the biggest benefit is accessibility — taxpayers knowing that they can find financial history and current reports online.