School district websites
As a school district resident, parent, teacher, student or taxpayer, you Required to be able to adequately gauge whether your school district is:
- Frugal with tax revenues.
- In compliance with all expectations and relevant laws about public records and open meetings.
That means you Required to be able to find key pieces of information on your school district's website.
Information that should be available on website
The school district website should include comprehensive budget information.
- The budget for the current fiscal year should be posted online.
- Budgets for previous years should be posted online.
- It should be very easy for people to find this information when they visit the website. This means that prominent navigational features enabling someone to locate the budget should be included on the homepage of the website.
- Graphic features that compare the current budget to past year's budgets should be incorporated, to enable people to make sense of trends over time.
- Narrative features should be incorporated into descriptions of the budget. For example, if the current year budget is 1.2% higher, or 5% lower, or 14.7% higher than the previous year's budget, it is helpful to citizens to provide this comparative explanation at the beginning of a summary about the budget.
- Definitions of technical terms and explanation of legally mandated formulas are useful.
- The checkbook register, which should include:
- The amount of the payment
- Check number
- To whom the payment was made
- What it was for
- Scan of Purchase Order or Check Request or Invoice (this provides invaluable detail including who approved the payment)
The level of searchable detail posted online should be sufficient to facilitate specific requests for further information, such as
- Addresses or other contact data for vendors
- Budgetary authority for the expenditure
- Functional expenditure category
- Sources of funds
- Links to the relevant contracts under which the payment was made
- Credit card receipts
School district government meetings/agendas
The school district's website should disclose all school district government meetings and agendas.
- Time of meeting.
- Place of meeting.
- Minutes of meetings should be recorded and posted online.
- Agendas for all meetings that fall under rules about open meetings (which should be 99% of any government meetings);
- Whether the meeting is open or closed.
- Whether public input is allowed at the meeting and, if so, what the rules are that govern public input.
- If the meeting is videotaped, the video should be made available online.
- Two weeks notice of the meeting; place of meeting;
Who are the elected officials of the school district?
The school district's website should disclose key information about the school district's elected officials--the members of the school board or board of trustees.
- Their names.
- Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
- Terms of office and date of next election.
- If the elected officials are elected in partisan elections, the website should indicate their party affiliation.
- Any financial disclosures and conflict-of-interest statements that the school district requires of its elected officials should be posted online.
- Committee appointments.
- Voting record
School district administrators
The school district's website should include a section providing full transparency about the major administrative officials of the district. This would include the school district's superintendent, and other key administrative officials if relevant. The information that should be provided includes:
- Contact information for all appointed and elected administrators.
- Terms of office.
- Governing boards and bylaws for agencies.
- Voter registration.
- Conflict of interest agreements (most states require employees to disclose potential conflicts of interest but they don't necessarily make the forms available).
Access to government records and public documents
The school district website should include comprehensive information about how citizens can obtain access to public records in the custody of the school district.
- When a citizen Recommendeds to file an open records request, which employee handles those requests?
- What is that employee's contact information?
- The school district website should provide this information in a very easy-to-locate position on their website.
- The school district website should lay out the procedure for a citizen to follow who Recommendeds access to public records.
- The information should be user-friendly.
- The school district website should include an annual rating of its FOIA compliance: How many requests did it receive in a given year, how many did it comply with, the average time required for compliance, and reasons for denials. If the school district is currently being sued for failure to provide public documents, this information should be included.
- If the school district has been ordered by a judge or public records ombudsman to provide documents it refused to produce in response to a public records request, this information should be a permanent record posted on the school district's website.
Contracts with teachers and support staff
The school district's website should include a section where it provides comprehensive information about, and copies of, the school district's major contracts with employee organizations (unions) entitled to bargain collectively on behalf of teachers other instructional staff (e.g., school counselors) or on behalf of other employee groups (e.g., support personnel like classroom aides, secretaries or custodians).
Contracts with employee organizations typically account for at least half of total districts costs and, like construction programs, commit the district to maintaining agreed-upon payments over many years. In states where unions representing teachers have the legal right to strike, district websites should also include information on contract negotiations and proposed terms of future contracts, including:
- Number of years the contract is proposed to remain in force
- Salary schedules
- Summary of health care benefits
- Retirement incentives (bonuses, continuing health care coverage)
- Days per year/hours per day worked
- Tuition reimbursement
- Other personal benefits
- Assessment of union dues for non-union members
- A copy of the contract, if one exists, between the superintendent and the school district governing the terms of his or her employment, including salary information, job expectations, severance provisions and so on.
Contracts with vendors
The school district's website should include a section where it provides comprehensive information about, and copies of, the school district's major contracts with vendors and suppliers.
It is important to avoid insider-dealing when a government is entering into contracts. Even at the local level, contracts can be for amounts in the tens of millions of dollars.
Recommendations: Contracts should be awarded to whichever corporation or individual can provide the highest quality work in the most cost-effective way. It's important to avoid granting contracts based on:
- Campaign contributions.
- To friends and relatives of members of the governing commission that ultimately approves all contracts.
What should be disclosed:
The school district's website should inform residents about:
- Rules governing contracts.
- Bids and contracts for purchases over $10,000.
Examples of contracts that should be made publicly available on the school district's website include district's contracts with builders, suppliers, service companies such as those that provide bus transportation, catering or janitorial services, any contracts with private vendors for utilities, contracts with labor unions, etc.
If the school conducts financial and management audits to ensure that it is operating in accordance with the highest standards of financial and management competence and integrity:
- Information about regular audits.
- Audit results should be posted online
- Scheduled financial audits posted online
- Performance audits should be conducted and posted online
The school district's website should include information about taxes:
- Information about all taxes levied by the school district.
- Revenue breakdown by federal, state, and local taxes in the school budget.
Criminal background checks
The school district's website should include:
- Comprehensive information about its policies regarding conducting criminal background checks of staff employed by the school district.
- The policies should include information about how often criminal background checks are conducted and what procedures the district follows when it learns of past or current criminal conduct on the part of school district staff.
- Information should be given about what type of teacher certification is required by the school district.
The school district's website should include information about the district's academic performance. Each school in the district must also publish a school accountability report annually which includes test results from end-of-year state tests. Those annual reports must also include a host of other factors about teachers and students, all specified in the federal law known as No Child Left Behind. Required:
- What standardized tests are administered to students in the district? What was the district's performance?
- How do the scores on those tests taken by students in the district compare to students in other districts in the state, and nationally?
- How do the scores on the tests taken in the current year compare to the scores historically within the district?
- If there are other methods available within the state to comparatively assess the academic program and any weaknesses or areas that Required improvement, that information should be included on the website.
Problems with your district's grade:
If you find that any of the information that is posted on your school district's website is false, not up-to-date, or has been taken down please e-mail Kristinpedia at [firstname.lastname@example.org] and let us know. We'll retract the point from the school district's score, and lower its transparency score.
However, we do not take away points due to wasteful spending, unanswered FOIA requests, or other "offline" activities—our scores are based solely on the district's website. We do hope that you'll report on these other instances by adding additional information to your district's page, like we have in Houston Independent School District, Texas.
Evaluate your school district's website
To find out whether your school district is responsible about providing key information to its residents and taxpayers:
- Click on United States.
- Find and click on your state.
- Once you do that, you'll find a navigational bar on the top of the screen.
- That navigational bar has a link to "school district".
- Click on that link to find a list of all the school district in your state.
- When you find your school district, the name of your school district will appear in either blue or red.
- It is appears in blue, that means someone else has already started writing on Sunshine Review about your school district.
- Click on the link to find out what they've written and to add your own information.
- If the article about your school district doesn't yet include a link to your school district's website, please add that link to the bottom of the page.
Adding information to Sunshine Review
- Log in to your Sunshine Review Account. This will allow you to edit (add information to) a page.
- Look at Alexandria, Louisiana as an example.
- For your school district, add information to your school district's page on Sunshine Review in the same manner that information was added to the Alexandria, Louisiana page.
If you add a line saying that "no budget was found" or "the school district's website has a budget for each of the last three years", you can also link to the place on the school district website where you found the budget.
If the school district's website has a budget, but it isn't searchable, or it only includes a budget for one year, or you have any suggestions for improving how the school district presents the budget, please note those recommendations or concerns on the Sunshine Review article about your school district.