In-House Transparency in Borger ISD
Borger ISD began posting its annual budget and monthly check registers online three years ago. One reason behind this decision was to improve the district's ratings on the Texas Education Agency's Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) report. Another was the district's need to replace two aging, overcrowded elementary schools, which required voter approval of a bond issue. Although the district had generally good relations with the community, school officials included financial transparency as a key part of an overall effort to maintain and improve those relationships.
As a result of the successful bond election, Borger began fiscal 2009 with two new elementary schools, one of which won a “Best in Texas” architectural award and has been nominated for a national award. “Transparency helped get the bond issue approved,” says Faye Hooper, the district business manager, Readily available financial data helps earn the trust and confidence of the taxpayers. “People don't have to guess where their tax dollars are going,” she says.
Hooper said that the transparency effort was implemented by in-house staff and did not affect the district budget at all. Her staff checks the data to be posted and sends it to the IT department in standard PDF format. According to Dewey Deloe, district director of Technology, the initial setup required some extra staff time, but monthly updates require little effort. The district already had its own Web site and the Dreamweaver and Adobe Acrobat software needed to maintain it.
Hooper maintains that the staff time and effort spent on transparency has been more than repaid by a sharp reduction in requests for public records — the financial office has had only one such request in the last two years — as well as reduced printing costs. Deloe notes that financial information should be online: “We are in charge of it, but it's their money,” he says.
According to Hooper, anyone planning to implement transparency efforts should begin by looking at the data and identifying and removing any items that may be confidential. For example, she pulls items such as employee paychecks and deductions, including flex benefits or garnishments, and instead lists totals under a general heading. This reports all expenditures without revealing sensitive personal information.
A second consideration is how to present complex financial data in a way that makes it easier to understand and more useful for the general public.
View the Borger ISD Check Register.