Jay Chilton | August 23, 2016
School Districts Fail to Comply With Transparency Law
[Part one in a series]
By Jay Chilton, CIJ
One portion of an Oklahoma law dealing with financial disclosure requires Oklahoma school districts to publish district credit card statements for public review on the district’s website. Though some schools are in full compliance, a sampling of 10 percent of the school district websites suggests that the overwhelming majority are not.
The School District Transparency Act, signed into law on May 26, 2010, by then-Governor Brad Henry, requires public school districts to publish purchases made with district funds. The law specifically requires disclosure of all credit card statements and directs school officials to list the department responsible for each credit card. The law says districts must place all data required by the statute on the school district website in an open-sourced, searchable format within 120 days of the expenditure without any fee or charge for accessing the information.
Six years after the law’s enactment, compliance seems to be the exception rather than the rule. OCPA’s Center for Investigative Journalism examined a random set of urban, suburban, and rural districts reflective of the state’s composition, including: two districts with at least 40,000 students; six districts with fewer than 40,000 but at least 14,000 students; nine districts with fewer than 14,000 but at least 5,000 students; 15 districts with fewer than 5,000 but at least 1,000 students; and 20 districts with fewer than 1,000 students.
A time limit of five minutes per website was observed. If the information was not located within five minutes it was deemed to be either not present or not accessible.
In every instance in which the credit card expenditure reports were found, they were found within two minutes. If the school district website provided access to credit card expenditure reports of any kind (even if the reports were not in an open-sourced, searchable format as required by law), the district was deemed to be in compliance.
Of the 52 districts chosen, only seven were in compliance with the law.
One example of a district in compliance with the law is Jenks Public Schools. Jenks’ credit card expenditure reports were located in less than one minute.
From the district home page, a user may hover the cursor over the “About JPS” tab and click the “Business Office” link. The first heading is “Financial Reporting.” Links to the desired fiscal year are available below the heading and, once selected, direct the viewer to the reports, organized by month. Selecting the desired month will direct the viewer to the specific reports, organized by department.
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.