Most districts and charters break Idaho transparency laws

Almost every district and charter in Idaho is out of compliance with state laws created to promote transparency in spending, contracts and long-term strategic planning.

Idaho law requires districts and charters to post the following information on their websites:

  • All expenditures, including the name and address of those receiving money.
  • A description of the expenditure.
  • Any contract related to an expenditure, including teacher and vendor contracts.
  • Annual budgets.
  • Current master labor agreements.
  • Strategic plans.

The budget and all expenditures are to be updated monthly, archived and made “easily accessible.”

The 14 districts and charters that fully comply with state law: Boise, Blaine County, Basin, Boundary County, Vallivue, Mountain Home, Post Falls, Shoshone, New Plymouth, Twin Falls, Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, Taylor’s Crossing Charter and Victory Charter.

Only 14 of 164 districts and charters are in complete compliance, while at least 18 have posted nothing on their websites. Most districts and charters have fulfilled some requirements, but often their data is outdated.

“This most certainly is not in the best interest of taxpayers, parents and students,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls.

The Boise School District is one of the best in Idaho for posting state-required information. The West Ada District is not far from complying but hasn’t posted teacher contracts for the last couple of years.

“It’s true — we are not in compliance,” said West Ada spokesman Eric Exline. “We are aware of it and we need to fix it.”

The posting requirements are parts of Idaho codes 33-357 and 33-320. The laws don’t designate enforcement or penalties for non-compliance.

“They were put into place to provide transparency for parents and the public and if they aren’t doing it, we should talk about how to enforce it — maybe with incentives because we aren’t in the business of punishing schools,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise. “I will talk to the two education chairs about what they’d like to do about it.”

Horman says the State Department of Education should be “encouraging lawful behavior” as part of its oversight responsibility. State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra disagrees and points to local governing boards.

“There are several different people who could be responsible, but certainly not the State Department of Education,” Ybarra said.

Like West Ada and many other districts, the Nampa School District’s website is missing its most recent financial information and teacher contracts.

“There are times when our site is really good because we very much value transparency,” Nampa district spokeswoman Allison Westfall said. “But a turnover in staff in the budget division landed at a time when we had to rank priorities. We need to get this updated.”

Mountain Home website
A screen shot of the Mountain Home School District website, which complies with state law

Among the best at compliance and easiest website to navigate was in Mountain Home, where Will Goodman presides as technology director. Earlier this year, Goodman served as the State Department of Education’s chief technology officer.

“We want to make sure we are getting as much information out there as possible because transparency is important to us,” said Goodman, who redesigned the district’s website this summer. “Since those laws were passed, this district has tried to keep up as best we can.”

At least 18 districts and charters had none of the required information posted on their websites. They included small districts like Meadows Valley, three elementary districts and alternative or online charters. The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District was the most non-compliant of larger districts.

“I guess my quick and dirty answer is that we are short of manpower and we don’t get everything done that we need to do,” said Meadows Valley Superintendent Mike Howard. “It’s just hard to get it all done. We have a classroom teacher that does the website and she’s busy.”

Idaho Education News searched 164 websites, for Idaho’s 115 school districts and 49 charters. The findings:

  • Some financial information was available on 128 websites. Most information was out of date, however.
  • No financial information was posted on at least 30 sites.
  • No required information was available on at least 18 sites.
  • Sixty-eight sites did not post strategic plans.
  • Fifteen sites featured a strategic plan, but no financial or contractual information.

“It was frustrating that I couldn’t go to every district and charter and find strategic plans,” Horman said about crafting state law (33-320) in 2014 which addresses strategic planning. “We don’t want to create laws about compliance — we want to create laws that improve outcomes for our students. Hopefully this causes us to come back and see how we did it and how we can do it differently.”

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader collected data for this story.