Transparency in Mesquite ISD
Mesquite ISD, a fairly large, suburban school district near Dallas, has posted its annual budget on its Web site for three years, and its check register for two.
Mesquite ISD does not post a separate check register for each month. Instead, it posts a single document and updates it monthly, usually on the first working day of each month, by adding all new checks for the previous month. The district's Web site currently offers two links for its check register, one for all checks issued in fiscal 2008 and the other containing all checks issued to date for fiscal 2009. This makes it easier for taxpayers, vendors and other interested parties to examine expenditures on an annual basis.
As with most other districts that have increased transparency, Mesquite ISD used in-house staff to keep expenses to a minimum. A member of its financial staff who is proficient in Power Munis financial software and Crystal report writing software was assigned to create a program to put the required data in an electronic format. Richard Koonce, Mesquite's assistant superintendent for Business Services, estimates that it took three to four hours of staff time to create the initial program; now it requires only a few minutes to run the monthly updates and forward the results to the district webmaster to post on the site.
Koonce says that online information is an effective tool for building good community relations because “it sends a message to our taxpayers that we are not hiding anything.”
For other school districts that want to improve transparency, he suggests several key steps:
- obtain the support of the school board;
- plan how to review and format financial data to make it accessible to the public;
- be aware of data security considerations, to ensure that check numbers or other sensitive information are edited out; and
- plan the work flow process to keep it simple and efficient.