For years, Marisol Montero, newly-elected member of the Kansas City (Mo.) School District’s board of directors, has navigated the district’s maze of red tape and ignorance of state and federal education policy. Her efforts to ensure her son, who has special needs, was actually receiving the care that he required, and for which schools had accepted federal dollars to provide, led her to an idea to dramatically increase the district’s transparency.
She says her requests for information initially met resistance: She often was told “Why do you need to know that?” and that her request was “unreasonable.” However, the school was receiving federal money and not spending it, then claiming that because it was not spent, the school was not bound to certain reporting schedules. The federal government disagreed, and thanks to Montero’s leadership, the school administrators resigned.
Montero now hopes to save other parents the hassle of battling the bureaucracy just to learn what is going on inside schools. She believes that simply providing information would go a long way toward improving services. She proposes instituting a Transparency Accountability Portal (TAP), modeled after Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt’s Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP). The MAP portal serves taxpayers as “a single point of reference to review how their money is being spent and other pertinent information related to the enforcement of government programs.” It includes information about state agency expenditures, the distribution of tax credits, state employee pay, and the use of federal stimulus funds.
Montero’s TAP would show how money is collected and spent; and link each expenditure to a specific district goal. The TAP will be similar to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Missouri Student Information System and the Missouri Comprehensive Data System, but more detailed and specific to the Kansas City district. Montero wants to include:
* The amount of money a school receives for each program.
* How much the school has set aside in activity funds for field trips, etc.
* General ledger details such as individual employee salary and basic job function — including administrators, teachers, and janitorial staff.
* Contracts the district and schools have entered for things such as lawn care, maintenance, and equipment. Montero said there is no consistency in contracting. “Some contracts can be for three years, others for three months,” she said. There is often no way for outsiders to evaluate the efficiency of some expenditures, i.e., tutoring services. How many kids are participating, and are grades improving?
The database also can help taxpayers appreciate the amount spent on employee benefits and pensions. The board could use this information for public input while renegotiating contracts and cutting budgets. The portal also could reduce the time the district spends responding to open records requests.
Montero believes such a portal would help the board stick to what she identifies as the four Ds: Data Driven Direction and Decisions. Without the portal, Montero said the board risks making decisions based on opinions, not facts.