A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Multiple School Districts Breaking the Law On Transparency

Schools are required to post contracts, compensation information online

Teachers in the Pontiac School District approved a contract with their school board in May 2012. 

Ten months later, the district still has only the 2007-2011 contract posted on its website.

In the Ann Arbor Public Schools in Washtenaw County, the district has 2011 salary information, including that of a superintendent who left in 2010 posted on its website.

Ann Arbor Public Schools Spokeswoman Liz Margolis called that an "oversight." The district now has its fiscal year 2012-13 approved budget on the website. (Update: Ann Arbor has now posted its 2012 salary information).

This week is Sunshine Week, which is designated to raise awareness of openness in government. However, numerous school districts are breaking a law that took effect Oct. 19, 2009, that said districts were supposed to post certain financial data on their websites. There is no penalty for non-compliance.

Schools were slow to follow the law when it was first enacted. According to the state of Michigan, about a year after the law went into effect only 23 percent of districts were in compliance.

Inkster Public Schools in Wayne County had no transparency icon on its website and was missing most of the required financial information until it was contacted by a reporter. Within a day after being contacted, the district updated its website to include much of the missing information.

"Please understand that our district has undergone a tremendous amount of cuts, consolidation and transitions," Inkster Public Schools Superintendent Mischa Bashir wrote in an email. "(That's) not an excuse, just an oversight in updates to the system."

Pontiac School Board President Carol Turpin didn't reply to an email seeking comment.

Numerous other districts around the state have not updated teachers' contracts or salaries.

"They are acting illegally in the middle of Sunshine Week by making it difficult for people to find school finances," said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "And school finances make up a significant portion of school funding."

The statute states that a district has 30 days after the school board adopts its operating budget to update the information.

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See also:

Michigan Capitol Confidential Transparency Coverage

How CapCon Uses Transparency Laws To Hold Government Accountable