School Districts Statewide Embrace Transparency; Roadblocks Remain in West Michigan

One of every seven Michigan public school students attends a district with an online check register

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Contact: Kenneth M. Braun
Policy Analyst
989-631-0900

MIDLAND — Utica Community Schools, the second largest public school district in Michigan, has posted its check register online for taxpayer inspection after being requested to do so by Kenneth M. Braun, director of the Mackinac Center's ongoing "Show Michigan the Money" transparency project. Dearborn Public Schools, with the fifth highest student count statewide, has done the same.

"Putting the checkbook online was the next step in being open with all the information we can provide to our taxpayers," said Dearborn Superintendent Brian Whiston. "We will continue to look for ways to be totally transparent in how we operate and how we spend the taxpayers' resources."

Braun praised Whiston for setting a Show Michigan the Money record by responding favorably within three minutes to a general e-mail requesting an online check register from all Wayne County school districts.

Howell Superintendent Theodore Gardella also went the extra mile. In addition to an online checkbook register, his district provides podcasts of the school board meetings.

"You need not leave your home or pick up a phone to know what the Howell Board of Education is doing and spending," said Braun. "Superintendent Gardella isn't just providing more information because we asked him — he's showing that Howell is seeking ways to be even more open. Every district in Michigan would be fortunate to have such leadership."

At least nine of Michigan's 20 largest public school districts, including half of the 28 Oakland County districts, now provide online check registers. At least one of every seven Michigan public school students now attends a district that provides such online access to its expenditure details.

A comprehensive list of school districts that have posted their checkbook registers online can be found at www.mackinac.org/9329.

Additionally, the River Rouge School District told Braun that it is interested in providing check registers in the near future. And earlier this year, the newly appointed emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools announced his intention to put that district's expense register online.

"Reading the list of schools with open checkbooks now takes as long as reading the school closings on the morning of a snowstorm," said Braun. "Districts that are not thinking of doing this right away may soon find themselves as the conspicuous exceptions in an area where sunshine rules."

A notable exception to the transparency tide has been school districts in west Michigan. Replicating a successful approach used with Oakland and Macomb County schools, the Show Michigan the Money Project sent an online check register request to every district in Wayne, Ottawa and Kent counties as part of Sunshine Week in March. The Wayne County requests, as with Oakland and Macomb counties before them, quickly revealed a number of districts that either wanted to provide an online check register or were already doing so. But the requests sent to Ottawa and Kent counties — with the exception of one district that is considering it — have produced no other favorable responses and no known posting of check registers.

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