The School Board should take the lead in implementing a system publicly communicating district expenditures similar to one recently proposed by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge. HB38 would have required districts to participate in Louisiana’s Open Checkbook, a financial data transparency system. It’s a system much like Open Checkbook BR, launched in 2018. Extending this kind of budgetary transparency to the school system should be a no-brainer.
The East Baton Rouge district is starting to spend hundreds of millions of federal dollars for learning loss and COVID-related spending. It also just approved a new comprehensive strategic plan, which should guide spending of both these federal dollars and the district’s own significant annual budget. Increasing transparency around whether the district’s funds are aligned to priorities would be a welcome step for a new superintendent who has vowed to take the district in a positive direction.
Data transparency isn’t new here. Open Data BR was approved by resolution of the Metro Council in 2017. Baton Rouge has been recognized nationally on several occasions for the level of transparency of our local government data. Now is an excellent time for the EBR school district to join the metro council and Mayor’s office.
When the governor vetoed HB38, he wrote that local districts do not have the resources or technology to comply with its requirements. Costs were pegged at $15,000 for set up and $25,500 annually, which stands to impact Louisiana's smaller school systems. But in EBR, where the annual budget is approximately $450 million and the 3-year federal COVID-19 funding is another approximately $250 million, the benefits outweigh the cost.
We believe that parents, families and taxpayers deserve a chance to fully see how the district spends our students’ education funding.
ADONICA PELICHET DUGGAN
CEO, Baton Rouge Alliance for Students