Financial secrets in Oklahoma?

Yesterday, the Edmond Sun newspaper in Edmond, Oklahoma published a lengthy article detailing concerns about how athletic booster clubs attached to public school districts do (or don’t) provide financial transparency about the money they raise and spend.

Patty Miller’s article starts out:

After two months of investigation into how much money is raised each year by booster clubs for the Edmond Public School District two things have become clear. One, the representatives of the school district know little about the booster clubs they sanction. And two, they know even less about how the booster clubs operate and how they spend the money they raise.

The booster clubs in question spent $933,511 in a recent year.

Miller goes on:

It is unclear in some instances as to how the money spent specifically helped the students.

One of the most interesting panels I attended at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Phoenix in June included an absorbing presentation by reporters Kathleen Carroll and Jean Rimbach of The Record, a newspaper in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Carroll and Rimbach conducted a lengthy investigation, Lessons in Waste, about how public education dollars given to private, non-profit, preschools in New Jersey were egregiously abused.

Their suggestion is that these “public-private partnerships” in the area of public education raise these questions:

Once tax dollars are entrusted to the private sector, what oversight do public officials have over how public money is spent? What are the pros and cons of using private agencies to build public programs?

The money raised by athletic booster clubs isn’t exactly public, since it doesn’t come through tax dollars. But, it does come courtesy of an affiliation with the school which may frequently involve free use of public facilities for events and fundraising programs. When the dollar amounts come close to $1 million a year, surely some degree of public oversight should be involved.

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