If you’re not paying attention, whoops, school building costs go way up

Do we assume that school board members know everything there is to know about the budgets, costs and so forth in the school district they govern? I used to assume that, but through the work I do here on this blog, I’ve started to wonder whether that’s true.

Case in point is this op-ed from Alex Saitta, a school board member in Pickens County, South Carolina.

The district office stonewalls many information requests by the press, the public and even school board members. Here are two questions I asked the district office in July of last year. Their reply was they didn’t have an answer because they lacked the data quality. One was, how much did employment grow from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, and how many of the new hires were teachers? The second question was, how much did the number of district administration personnel increase during that time, and how much did salary costs rise?

The school district administration also:

…has yet to release construction cost estimates for individual schools, and a year and a half passed before it gave that information to the board. It wasn’t until last month, when I insisted on this information, that the board actually got a copy. To our surprise, the cost of the plan had risen from $315 million to about $375 million.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to serve on a school board–and it’s a pretty thankless task because there are always some parents who think the school is spending way too much and some who think it isn’t spending nearly enough. But geez, if the school board can’t get this kind of basic information from the administration, the job of ultimate governance goes from really hard to basically impossible.

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