STAFF SUMMARY OF MEETING
SENATE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
|09:31 AM to 11:53 AM
|This Meeting was called to order by
|This Report was prepared by
X = Present, E = Excused, A = Absent, * = Present after roll call
|Witness Testimony and/or Committee Discussion Only
09:31 AM -- Senate Bill 09-057
Senator Harvey, sponsor of Senate Bill 09-057, presented his bill to the committee. The bill requires local education providers to post financial information on an on-line searchable budget database. Senator Harvey explained that two districts already post this information on the internet. He talked about the cost to the state of putting state financial information on-line, saying that based on the cost to the state to put this information on-line, the requirement for school districts should not be burdensome. He said the bill does not drive a state fiscal impact, but there may be an impact to school districts.
Senator Harvey responded to questions from the committee. Senator King asked what a searchable database would look like. Senator Harvey described how he sees the database. Conversation between Senator King and Senator Harvey on this issue ensued. Senator King described an amendment he would offer that would define what "searchable" means. Senator King said 13 districts and 17 charter schools do not currently have websites, and asked how those districts would be brought into compliance. Senator Harvey responded, saying the bill requires district to comply by December of 2009. Conversation between Senator King and Senator Harvey on this issue ensued, with Senator King talking about what schools provide to school boards with regard to budget. He said he would suggest changing the requirement for a daily report to a monthly report in the bill and allowing schools and districts to use information that is already produced to meet the bill's requirements.
Senator Harvey continued his responses to committee questions, responding specifically to Senator King's comments. Senator Harvey said Senator King's proposal does not meet the intent of the bill. He described what the intent of the bill is, saying it provides opportunity, by showing where funds are spent, to show where money may be saved. Senator Harvey said some districts do post budgets on-line, but that does not show where money is being spent. Senator King asked about protections in the bill around disclosure of individual employee's names. Senator King further spoke to the difference between budget and expenditure reports and the requirements of the bill.
Senator Harvey clarified the language of the bill, saying it addresses expenditures, showing the name and address of a contractor that is being paid by the education provider. He explained that the bill gets as close as possible to transparency without infringing on employee privacy. Senator King responded to these comments.
Senator Harvey responded to questions from Senator Hudak about what the bill requires in terms disclosure of payments to employees. Discussion between Senator Harvey and Senator Hudak on this issue ensued. In response to earlier comments from Senator Harvey about on-line expenditure information in Texas, Senator Hudak commented on the differences between Texas and Colorado educational systems, saying Texas is a central control state, whereas Colorado is a local control state. Senator Harvey responded to Senator Hudak's comments. Senator Hudak continued, saying that school districts have accountability committees that look at budgets and expenditures of moneys and advise school districts. The public, she said, has access to the information required to be disclosed in the bill, through the accountability committees. Senator Harvey responded, saying that while citizens can attend meetings, they may not have easy access to information about expenditures. Senator Hudak responded to these comments, talking about the relative size of a school district.
Senator Kopp responded to Senator Hudak's comments, saying the bill shifts the burden of proof back to the school district, allowing citizens to access information from their own homes, which is especially important as school districts come to voters asking for money. Senator Hudak responded to these comments, saying again that citizens already have the opportunity to view this information and to comment on school district budgets. She said the difference between current practice and what the bill provides is the searchable database. Conversation around these issues between Senator Kopp and Senator Hudak ensued.
The following persons testified:
09:56 AM -- Jane Urschel, Colorado Association of School Boards, testified in opposition to the bill. Dr. Urschel expressed concern about how districts, especially small rural school districts, will create the required websites. She said school districts will be making budget cuts and cannot comply. Dr. Urschel responded to questions from the committee.
Senator Harvey responded to Dr. Urschel's testimony, saying Durango School District and Rangely School District have put this information on-line at no cost. He said he does not believe the bill's requirements will have a great fiscal impact for school districts. Senator Romer asked how much traffic school district websites get. Neither Dr. Urschel nor Senator Harvey was able to provide that information.
10:01 AM -- Bruce Caughey, Colorado Association of School Executives, testified in opposition to the bill. Mr. Caughey said that in the current budget environment, schools are asking that the state adopt no more unfunded mandates. He described the demographics of small districts, saying requirements such as the one proposed in the bill add a non-classroom activity, and small districts cannot spare the personnel to comply. He commented on the budget documentation that is already required by state law.
Mr. Caughey responded to committee questions. He responded to a question from Senator Hudak about transparency that already exists around school district budget and expenditures. He described a number of ways the public can get the information addressed in the bill. Mr. Caughey talked about the danger of providing information at a micro-level. Conversation continued between Senator Hudak and Mr. Caughey around public access to budget and expenditure information.
Senator Kopp asked for details about the cost to districts. Mr. Caughey responded to a question from Senator Heath about whether there is feedback or guidance from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) on budget issues. Senator Bacon commented that in the past school districts have worked together to coordinate buying to minimize costs. Mr. Caughey said there is frequent collaboration between districts. He provided a number of examples of such collaborations.
10:11 AM -- Ben DeGrow, Independence Institute, came to the table to provide information. He talked about the number of districts across the nation that are putting the kind of information the bill requires on the internet. Mr. DeGrow talked about the difference between budget information and expenditure information. He talked about on-line searchable databases, similar to the one required in the bill, that currently exist. He spoke to the fiscal impact of the bill. Mr. DeGrow talked about the potential for cost savings through the transparency required by the bill. He said having this information readily available helps build trust and accountability.
Mr. DeGrow responded to questions from the committee. Senator Romer said school districts will be dealing with a lot of budget cuts, and suggested that this transparency will happen over time, but there are policy questions around the proposal at this time. He said that if a couple more school districts provide this information, there will be more data to move forward with all districts at a later time. Mr. DeGrow responded, saying the relative amount of effort, time, and money that would be spent on the bill would be well spent.
Senator Heath commented that locally elected school boards are accountable asked how the bill saves money or jobs. Mr. DeGrow responded, and discussion between Senator Heath and Mr. DeGrow ensued.
Senator Hudak asked about the difference between budget and expenditures, noting that the title of the bill refers to a searchable budget database, not an expenditure database. She commented on Colorado's status as a local control state, and asked Mr. DeGrow to clarify an earlier statement about the cost of implementing such a database for Colorado school districts.
10:24 AM -- Donna Jack, representing herself, testified in support of the bill. Ms. Jack talked about her experiences working with her son to find information about the cost of educating students in her county. She said it took several weeks to find the information she was seeking. Ms. Jack mentioned bills requiring homeowners association documents to be available to the public, and said those bills have been very successful. She expressed concern about the requirement that the database be updated daily, but said that the idea should be pursued. Ms. Jack responded to questions from the committee.
10:29 AM -- Tom Keller, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Keller described his support of a 2006 ballot initiative, and said during his work on the initiative, he had a difficult time getting data he requested from school districts under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). He said that experience illustrates the need for Senator Harvey's bill. Mr. Keller said business owners will search the database to find sales opportunities, which will save school districts money. Mr. Keller showed the committee a stack of documents he had received in response to a request for information from school districts to illustrate the data that is available. He said a searchable database will help people narrow down what they want from districts. Mr. Keller talked about how districts talked together about how to avoid responding to his CORA request. He talked about the costs associated with viewing district records. He expressed concern about the bill's exclusion of personal salaries, and said that data should be included in the data reporting required in the bill. Mr. Keller talked about the concerns expressed by earlier witnesses about the cost of maintaining the database.
10:37 AM -- Charles Able, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Able said the bill is more about an informed public than about transparency. He described issues he had faced when requesting records through CORA. Mr. Able said the bill would provide both sides of the ledger, and he talked about school accountability committees. He talked about the amount of work required to provide budget information to the public. Mr. Able said most districts already have searchable databases available on their intranet that would be easily convertible to internet. He commented on when records are available, saying school district custodians of records are not available 365 days a year, or even 5 days a week. Government, he said, should be transparent.
10:42 AM -- Frank Atwood, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Atwood said fiscal estimates are not based on potential savings. He said the bill gives an opportunity for accountability and transparency, saying the savings will be inherent in verifying legitimate expenditures.
10:44 AM -- Tom Stone, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Stone said the bill is about restoring trust in government. He said it was difficult for him, as a county commissioner, to access the kind of information the bill requires be made public. Mr. Stone said what is needed is to be able to search by vendor. He said the information is already on a database, it just needs to be made accessible and searchable. Mr. Stone commented that the money being spent is the public's money, and being transparent restores trust in the government. He said similar transparency should be required of all county governments as well. He said a positive step forward today is needed.
10:49 AM -- Russell Haas, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Haas said two constituencies have been left out of the discussion of the bill today -- teachers and students. He talked about his experience with a CORA request to a school district.
10:52 AM -- Cleve Tidwell, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Tidwell talked about his experience as an officer of a company looking for cost savings. He said people do not have time to wade through large amounts of information, and do not have time to attend meetings. He said the books should be opened, and districts need to find areas where savings can be realized.
10:56 AM -- Jack Ott, representing himself and the Denver Chapter of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Ott said the database will provide the opportunity for vendors around the state to bid for contracts. He said every business should be given every opportunity it can have to grow its business. Mr. Ott said it is not difficult to set up and maintain a website. He said that smaller school districts will not face difficulties in creating the database.
11:00 AM -- Greg Romberg, Colorado Press Association and Colorado Broadcasters Association, testified in support of the bill.
11:01 AM -- Jeff Orrok, representing himself and the Libertarian Party of Colorado, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Orrok described efforts underway to provide a body of free code to be used by counties, towns, and school districts. He talked about current technology and the opportunities it provides for savings. Mr. Orrok said cooperative spending is in the interests of school districts that would like to save money. He commented on the number of citizens in attendance, saying they are speaking for many who are interested in accountability.
11:06 AM -- David Williams, Libertarian Party of Colorado, testified in support of the bill. He said knowledge is good, and the bill provides knowledge. Mr. Williams said the bill gives power to the individual. Senator Romer commented on putting mandates on school districts and whether the bill accomplishes the desired results.
Senator Harvey responded to Senator Romer's comments.
11:11 AM -- Scott Helman, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Helman talked about the value of transparency. He said he has served on school and district accountability committees, and said that the necessary transparency for the public to understand where money is being spent is not there. Mr. Helman talked about the decisions school districts make. Senator Bacon commented on Mr. Helman's testimony.
11:15 AM -- Don Garretson, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. He read an email he sent to senators asking for support of transparency and Senate Bill 09-057, and also read the response he received from Senator King. He said the bill creates trust between citizens and government. Mr. Garretson said complying with the bill is not expensive.
11:18 AM -- Dorothy Wisecarver, representing herself, testified in support of the bill. She said that the majority of property taxes she has paid in Jefferson County have gone to the school district, and she talked about county expenditures. She said putting detailed information about school district spending on-line for public scrutiny is a win/win situation. She said it will create immediate cost savings, because school priorities will change, and more priority will be placed on spending wisely.
11:20 AM -- Edie Bryan, representing herself, testified in support of the bill. Ms. Bryan said all levels of government are moving toward this kind of transparency. She said it will enable board members and other public officials to have more access to information.
11:22 AM -- Joseph Talty, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. He said this is the time for this bill.
11:22 AM -- Glen Gustafson, Colorado Springs School District 11, testified in opposition to the bill. He talked about his experience at the school district, and said the bill will require a lot of work that no one will ever look at. He said the bill will require spending of administrative dollars to develop the system. He talked about unfunded mandates. Mr. Gustafson said many school districts do provide this information, and want input from citizens, but they do not get that input. He suggested that budgets should be posted instead. Mr. Gustafson said the posting could be handled by CDE through the automated data exchange program. He talked about the information that is already publically available and is searchable in an Excel spreadsheet. School districts have plenty on their plate, he said, and the requirements of the bill are not part of schools' core mission.
Mr. Gustafson responded to committee questions about what charter schools report, and about the automated data exchange.
Committee discussion with Mr. Gustafson continued, with discussion about what school districts currently submit to school boards around expenditures.
11:33 AM -- Terence Mangan, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. He said that if there was quick easy public access to school district information, districts would think twice about how they spend.
11:36 AM -- Natalie Menten, representing herself, testified in support of the bill. She provided two handouts showing Jefferson County School District spending (Attachments A and B). She talked about her experience making CORA requests to school districts, and creating a searchable database on her own website of school district credit card spending. She described the information she found, saying a tremendous amount of savings could be realized. She talked about the number of people who have used the searchable engine on her website. Ms. Menten described a number of spending items she identified in her research.
Ms. Menten responded to committee questions.
11:43 AM -- Jeff Sacco, representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Mr. Sacco talked about why transparency is important, and talked about the cost to school districts to comply, saying the cost is minimal in comparison to the whole budget.
11:46 AM -- Amy Oliver, representing herself, testified in support of the bill. She said the bill brings people into the fold to help find cost savings. Ms. Oliver talked about the time required to fill out CORA requests. She said the information required by the bill is already public record.
Senator Harvey provided closing comments to the bill.
Senator Bacon laid the bill over until tomorrow's meeting. (Thursday, January 29, 2009, at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 354.)
The committee adjourned.