Openness in Big Spring ISD
Big Spring ISD began posting its annual budget online two years ago, and recently added the past two years of its check register.
The online budget includes data about the district's short- and long-range planning process and goals; color charts showing trends in enrollment, capital outlays and debt status; details about the budget processing; and explanations of the accounting codes.
The check register is updated monthly and shows payees, amounts and descriptions of each payment. All this information makes it easier for local taxpayers to understand how the district works and where their school taxes are spent.
In-house personnel post these documents, needing “no more than two to three hours per month of staff time,” says Sandra Waggoner, the district's chief financial officer (CFO). The bookkeeper edits the check register data and puts it into PDF format for review by the CFO, who checks to ensure that protected confidential items have been deleted. This cleaned-up document then is sent to the district's technical director for posting on the ISD Web site.
The local press publicized the initial unveiling of the online budget, and usually publishes several articles on each annual budget process. The district's openness has received a positive response from the community. Waggoner also suggests that transparency may produce savings in terms of staff time spent on public records requests.
Waggoner encourages school districts that have not implemented transparency measures to do so. She recommends that the district financial office coordinate with the technology department to determine how to format and transmit the budget and check register data and post it online.
“Think of the questions people want to ask about the budget and how to incorporate the answers into the budget document,” she says. “And keep it simple — it doesn't have to be complex.”