Most districts, charters make school practice more transparent

Most Idaho school districts and charter schools are in compliance or very close to being in compliance with state transparency laws, a drastic improvement from last year.

For the past two years, Idaho Education News has examined district and charter websites to see if they met state requirements.

This year, 50 of 161 districts and charters fully comply with the law, posting updated expenditures, contracts and strategic plans. That comes to 31 percent of districts or charters. Another 52 are missing just one data element.

These district websites are in full compliance with state transparency laws: Boise, Pocatello, Snake River, Blackfoot, Aberdeen, Blaine County, Garden Valley, Basin, Horseshoe Bend, Boundary County, Prairie Elementary, Glenns Ferry, Mountain Home, Emmett, Cottonwood, Jefferson, West Jefferson, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Kootenai, Moscow, Potlatch, Troy, Salmon, Nezperce, Kamiah, Shoshone, Sugar-Salem, Bruneu-Grand View, Homedale, Payette, Arbon Elementary, Wallace, Avery, Teton County, Filer, Compass Charter, Liberty Charter, Taylors Crossing Charter, Vision Charter, Legacy Charter, American Heritage Charter, Forrest M. Bird Charter, Idaho College and Career Readiness, Idaho Distance Education Academy, Coeur d’Alene Charter, Anser Charter, Meridian Technical Charter, Idaho Arts Charter and Moscow Charter.

Last year, only 8 percent of districts and charters were in full compliance, according to Idaho EdNews’ analysis. Eighteen districts and charters failed to post any requirements; that comes to 11 percent of districts and charters.

This year, more than 90 percent of districts and charters improved their websites, in an effort to make school practices more transparent for parents, employees and taxpayers. Just a few websites are drastically out of compliance.

“It’s terrific news that our schools are providing parents and the public better access to this information,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who said last year that it was “frustrating” she couldn’t find strategic plans on every website.

The most improved award goes to the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District, which today has all required documents on its website.

“I’m sure the patrons appreciate the ability to access the information,” said superintendent Douglas Howell, who supervised changing the entire web platform.

Idaho codes 33-357 and 33-320 require districts and charters to post the following items and update them regularly:

  • All expenditures, including the names and addresses 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 laws don’t designate enforcement or penalties for non-compliance.

But after Idaho Education News revealed widespread non-compliance in 2015, district and charter leaders made efforts to comply and sought assistance from the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Education News.

ISBA did “significant work with school districts last year,” Executive Director Karen Echeverria said.

“They would contact us or we would contact them. We would then take a look at their website and assist in assuring they are compliant.”

Idaho Education News shared its findings with districts and charters who called to find out what was missing from their websites.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader did the research for this story.

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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