An important aspect of government transparency is making details of spending available to taxpayers, and school districts across the state are working to have their check registers and credit card statements on the Internet by June 30. School finance officials in Georgetown and Horry counties say they will have spending online by the deadline set in a 2009 law.
Lisa Johnson, associate superintendent for finance and operations in Georgetown County Schools, says online posting is in the testing stage and will be up and running by June 30, possibly sooner. John Gardner, executive director of finance for Horry County Schools, says "we see no problems whatsoever'' in posting expenditures by June 30. More focus will be on the posting project once the budget is done.
At least 15 S.C. school districts have notified the comptroller's office they are posting their spending, comptroller spokesman R.J. Shealy says. "I feel confident all [school districts] will have" spending online by the deadline. School districts are the largest governing bodies. Horry County Schools' proposed budget, including debt service, is $546 million. In Georgetown County, the proposed budget for 2010-11 is $68,330,344. Current enrollment is 9,448 students in Georgetown County and 37,735 in Horry County.
The two schools systems will join the laudable trend of local government in posting spending records online. The city of Myrtle Beach was the first municipality on the Grand Strand to do so, followed by Surfside Beach and the city of Georgetown. Shealy reports that a total of 35 local governments, including Horry County, are now posting spending online. The school districts are required to do so by a provision in a law temporarily lifting restrictions on fund transfers to help school districts deal with the recessionary economy.
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While the requirement to post spending online drew protests from some school administrators, Shealy says the comptroller's office found more support and enthusiasm from school districts than might have been expected. Berkeley County schools began posting last August. Comptroller Richard Eckstrom told a meeting of the S.C. Association of School Business Officials that Berkeley officials found that none of the traditional complaints proved correct about posting spending. Indeed, governments posting spending information online often see a dramatic reduction in public information requests. It is correct that posting does require time. As Georgetown County School's Johnson says, "It's not so much an ordeal, but it does take extra work."
An effort to require local governments to post spending information was in the proposed Truth in Spending (H. 3540), but it's too late for that to be approved in this session of the General Assembly. Next time around, local legislators should join the four dozen already co-sponsoring the legislation. Without the law for municipalities, 35 local governments are showing it's not so difficult to let taxpayers know about spending.
Anderson County is showing the way for making government more transparent. More than 100 residents attended a Sunshine Week event in March, according to county public information director Angie Stringer. The county, in the northwestern corner of the state, is one of only five in the United States to receive a perfect score by The Sunshine Review of the Sam Adams Alliance, a group that promotes transparency in government.