Imagine if your neighborhood school district drafted its annual proposed budget to offer taxpayers, but did not post all required budget documents online for public viewing. The objective is dealing the public an even hand by disclosing what the spending will buy, how much it will cost and what district residents will owe in property taxes. And then you learn the information is sketchy. What, then, do you do?
It sounds nonsensical, yet the Hunter-Tannersville Central School District and the New Lebanon Central School District did not post all required budget documents online, according to a state audit of 13 randomly selected districts. The report was released Tuesday by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The selected districts were audited from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.
Many of the 13 districts did not post all mandatory financial information such as budgets, external audits and corrective action plans. New Lebanon and Hunter-Tannersville excluded required information from their online original budgets. Neither district posted original budget information that was easy to locate.
From a checklist of 12 documents, districts are required to post for public access, Hunter-Tannersville posted only one. The district posted comprehensive original adopted budgets, but did not post a comprehensive original adopted budget, final annual budget, transparent and comprehensive external audit report and corrective action plans or transparent and comprehensive Office of the State Comptroller audit report and corrective action plan, all of which are required.
New Lebanon posted four of the required 12: a transparent original adopted budget, transparent and comprehensive final annual budget and a comprehensive Office of the State Comptroller audit report. New Lebanon was one of three school districts out of the 13 to post a comprehensive final annual budget, which is required.
For the moment, the school superintendents from New Lebanon and Hunter-Tannersville say they are updating their online budget access, and that’s a good thing. But the question of why the districts did not keep up with required postings should be answered. Important public information reached voters in neither HTC nor New Lebanon. The contents of school budgets are a matter of public record, and they should be accessible to the people who are taxed to support them. Pardon the pun, but that is the textbook definition of transparency.