Jay Chilton | August 31, 2016

School Districts Express Willingness to Comply with Law

Jay Chilton

[Part three in a series]

By Jay Chilton, CIJ

Overwhelming majorities of public school websites reviewed by OCPA’s Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) during a recent analysis were out of compliance with the state’s School District Transparency Act.

Representatives of some districts said they were unaware of the law’s existence. Some deflected responsibility to officials with greater authority or denied that any such requirement exists. Some acknowledged the law and its role in assuring the public that their dollars were being used responsibly and properly. Some even went so far as to thank CIJ for bringing the law and its transparency requirements to their attention, helping them fulfill their responsibility to Oklahoma taxpayers.

In central Oklahoma, Mid-Del Schools officials were receptive to the transparency requirement but admitted that their responsibility was not currently (as of this report) being met.

When asked, an unnamed financial officer said that she was “not sure that they (the reports) are out there (on the website).”

“I was aware that (the information) was supposed to be out there,” she said. “But we changed our website this summer and didn’t get them reloaded into the website.”

In the center of the bottom of the main page, a button labeled “Required Documents” is available. When clicked, the viewer is redirected to a list of statements and policy papers, but none of the required financial disclosure reports are present.

When asked if the reports were on the website before the change she said, “I can’t swear to it.”

“Thank you for bringing it to our attention,” she continued, “and we’ll get it out there.”

Office personnel at Hugo Schools said they were unaware of the requirement to publish the information and were wary of inquiries when asked during a telephone call, but upon understanding the requirement, indicated they would make the necessary changes.

“I don’t know that you’ll find that,” the Hugo Schools operator said when asked where to find credit-card purchase records on the website. “Why are you looking for it?”

When informed that law requires the information, she said, “I don’t think you’ll find it. I better transfer you down to Debbie.”

The official identified only as “Debbie” said she recalled a workshop two years prior in which the Transparency Act was mentioned and remembered something about the credit-card requirement but said that the law was not enforced by the state.

Upon hearing that, as the receiving school district of the now-dissolved Grant-Goodland School District, there could be concern surrounding Hugo Schools’ lack of compliance with the law (given the financial improprieties in the former district), she recognized a need for the required transparency.

“I’m going to take this to the superintendent,” she said. “He’s a new superintendent and he might as well start making these changes. Thank you very much for calling.”

Hugo Superintendent Earl Dalke returned the call and was adamant about his belief in transparency as a leading principle within the Hugo public school system. “This is the taxpayers’ money and they have a right to know how it’s spent,” Dalke said, “and that’s just how we see it.

“We also don’t like to use credit cards as a rule. We prefer to use our purchase order system when we can because it is less able to be abused.”

Dalke said that he called the State Department of Education to confirm the existence of the law and was told that the vast majority of districts across the state were not even aware of the requirement. He said an unnamed official told him that very few people at the SDE knew of the ramifications of the law.

Dalke was thankful for the investigation and inquiry into the district and planned to use it as an opportunity to improve his school system. “We will get those reports up as soon as is operationally possible,” he said.

Jay Chilton

Independent Journalist

Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.

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