"If You Can't Defend It, Don't Spend It": Denver Post's Look at School Finances

In recent weeks I’ve told you about the recent successes Colorado has seen in the area of school financial transparency — namely, the detailed online financial databases created by two of the state’s three largest districts (Jeffco and Douglas County).

Yesterday the Denver Post‘s Jeremy Meyer and Burt Hubbard reported some of what can be learned by having an easier peek behind the financial curtain:

Spending on items other than salaries and bonuses by the Jefferson County and Douglas County school districts totaled $106 million and $91 million, respectively, from July 2009 to mid-February this year.

And while the bulk of that money is spent on necessary supplies for maintenance of schools, and for direct classroom expenses (such as books, office supplies and other items), millions are spent annually on restaurants, travel and training.

And Jeffco and Douglas are the two districts that have shown themselves the most comfortable with opening up their line-item spending so the public — including the press — can take a look. (The Post probably had to work somewhat harder to get the same sort of info from Denver Public Schools.) What’s going on in other districts: Cherry Creek, Adams 12, Aurora and Boulder Valley, to name a few?

Of course, as school districts in Colorado look to achieve savings during the current difficult budget times, eliminating the frills won’t get them all the way there. Cutbacks will have to hit the much larger personnel part of the budget, one way or the other. Trimming bureaucracy, reforming teacher and principal pay, and private contracting of non-classroom services also should be given strong consideration.

Nevertheless, when it comes to other spending practices in a district, the Starbucks and the catering and the out-of-state conferences, here’s a word to the wise: “If you can’t defend it, don’t spend it!”

Amy also highlighted the story this morning on the Colorado Transparency site.