The majority of states, along with the federal government, have enacted public information laws designed to help citizens track government spending. Officials in most of the school districts promptly accept and honor information requests; however, officials in the Boston and Toledo school districts seem less than willing to comply [PDF], writes Steve Gunn of the Education Action Group.
A lot of attention is being paid to the amount schools spend on labor, with up to 80 percent of a school's budget being put aside solely for faculty. And organizations like Education Action Group believe it's hard to balance budgets and preserve student programs without reducing those costs.
However, while many districts have been happy to disclose information at no cost, Boston officials asked for a huge fee of $2,000 to answer questions about school district spending. This move being perceived as officials using their fee schedule to keep citizens separated from public information.
And Toledo school officials are withholding spending information, saying that they're under no obligation to do so – citing Ohio state law that only requires them to provide access to existing documents.
"It's amazing that the people who manage these districts want taxpayers to feel bad about their supposed lack of operating funds," says Education Action Group, who are looking to compile a report on district labor costs.
"That would be easier if the public had any sort of guarantee that school officials know where our tax dollars are going, and are willing to share that information."
When it comes to school financing, many proposals to balance budgets include increasing taxes to provide more money for schools or laying off younger teachers. Some districts even go as far as to cancel student programs to save money.
However, organizations like the Education Action Group are proponents of a third way – suspending or eliminating dozens of very expensive provisions written into teachers union collective bargaining agreements across the nation.
"Schools could free up millions of dollars of existing revenue if local unions would agree to surrender a few expensive perks for a couple of years."
These perks? Things like automatic, annual salary increases for teachers, free or low-cost pension programs, free or low-cost health insurance coverage, full salaries and benefits for union presidents who never teach, longevity bonuses, retirement bonuses, reimbursement for unused sick and personal days, and many other expensive items, writes Steve Gunn.
And, obviously, all these perks add up to a great deal of money for cash-strapped schools.
"They responded to our inquiry by asking for a payment of $2,000 before processing our request. As a small non-profit with a limited budget, we were staggered by the price tag."