Michael Van Beek has been downloading the financial data that school districts have been putting up on their web sites as part of a new state law. The state's School Aid Act was amended to make it mandatory for schools to include certain financial information on their web sites. The law went into effect Oct. 19, 2009.
But Van Beek, the education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, won't be able to complete the project because the state says that only 23 percent of the districts have complied as of Sept. 16. There is no penalty for not complying.
"This has been on the books for more than a year," said Jack McHugh, legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center. "It's not like it just happened. They've had plenty of time to do this."
Van Beek said the school districts told him it takes a day or two to compile the information and get it up on the site.
"It's not that it is a huge undertaking or expense for a district," Van Beek said.
What has been released has made big news in communities all around the state.
In Jackson, the news that 39 public school employees take home more than $100,000 made front page of the Jackson Citizen Patriot. The online story drew 41 comments.
When it was learned the Harbor Beach School District Superintendent Ron Kraft's total compensation exceeded $300,000, the Huron County Press reported that a crowd of more than 80 people complained during a school board meeting. When the Oct. 20 meeting ended, the newspaper reported members of the audience faced off with board members in "heated discussions."
According to a Sept. 16 memo from Carol Wolenberg, the state's deputy superintendent, the districts are non-compliant for a variety of reasons. That includes such things as incomplete information, broken links, improper formatting and improper placement of the transparency icon on the web site.
Van Beek downloaded the salary information for all of the employees of the Battle Creek School District. Weeks later, he found the full list had been removed and substituted with just those making $100,000 or more.
"I wonder why the district has chosen to keep that information concealed when at one time it was public. What is the benefit?" Van Beek said. "It is public information that they once had made available and now they are choosing not to. I wonder why?"
Deborah Gregory, executive director of financial services for the Battle Creek School District, described the reasoning for the change in an e-mail: "I had done a survey of surrounding districts and they had the same as I currently have now. I did not feel it was appropriate to have all of the names and amounts if it was not necessary. Besides, the initial report had some errors and I wanted to comply with the requirements in a timely fashion."