Districts update websites to comply with state law

At least 30 Idaho school districts updated their websites in the last week in efforts to comply with Idaho laws created to promote transparency in spending and planning.

On Oct. 1, Idaho Education News reported that only 14 of 164 districts and charter schools fully complied with state requirements for posting expenditures, contracts and strategic plans online. At least 18 websites include none of the required information.

Since then, many districts have scrambled to make updates and changes.

“If you check out the Meadows Valley website, I will have three of the topics posted. It’s been a long weekend!” said Mike Howard, superintendent of the Meadows Valley School District, which, until recently, had none of the required items posted on its website.

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 from 2001 and made “easily accessible.”

Idaho Education News documented the missing elements on each site. Most districts and charters had fulfilled some requirements, but often the data was outdated. On a second review this week, Idaho Education News found that many sites had been updated.

Several superintendents contacted the Idaho School Boards Association looking for help. ISBA Executive Director Karen Echeverria sent inquiries to Idaho Education News.

Orofino trustee Danielle Hardy, Minidoka Superintendent Ken Cox and McCall Superintendent Jim Foudy were among about 20 administrators who emailed or called Idaho Education News.

“I am interested to see what you found out about the districts, including ours,” Hardy asked.

Cox asked: “Could you please share with me the required postings that we are missing so we can get them on the website?”

The Blaine County School District was one of the best in the state for posting required documents, yet still looked to improve. “I would love some feedback,” said Heather Crocker, the district’s communications director. “Maybe ours is a little too cryptic. Feedback welcome!”

On Monday, the West Ada School District added teacher contracts to its site. Nampa, Jefferson County, Cassia County and Cottonwood also were among the districts that posted new documents over the last few days.

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

What happens next is unclear.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has said he plans to talk to the chairmen of the Senate and House education committees about non-compliance issues.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, has said the State Department of Education should be “encouraging lawful behavior” as part of its oversight responsibility.

But state superintendent Sherri Ybarra disagrees.

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