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What’s all this talk about transparency?

Every Cecil County budget cycle is a battle and this year will be even more contentious with a primary election on April 26 that will include fights for county executive, county council, and school board. This primary and the general election in November have the potential to change Cecil County for years to come and, so far, it’s not clear if that change will keep us moving forward in our uphill battle or send us crashing backwards to the ground.

Several of the candidates have said they will push Cecil County Public Schools to be more transparent with their financial reports and student test scores.

LOL…literally…LOL

I’m not sure how CCPS could be more transparent in these areas.

Transparency of Cecil County Public Schools’ Financial Reports

Nearly all CCPS financial documents are easily found on the school system’s website. You don’t have to call anyone to request the documents, fill out any forms, or even create an online login. Just look for them and print them. Annual reports, budget request presentations, proposed annual budgets, and approved annual budgets back to FY 2006 are all available on the CCPS Budget page, free for anyone who wants to take the time to read them. If you don’t want to kill a tree, you can download them to your computer to read at another time.

If it makes you feel any better, the team that puts these reports has received a long string of awards for governmental financial reporting so we can safely say they’ve got this area covered.

Curious how the school system is doing month to month and against its annual budget?

CCPS chief financial officer Thomas Kappra presents year to date budget reports at the board of ed meetings. These reports compare the current year’s expenses and revenue to both the approved budget and last year’s actual results.

Can’t attend the board of education meeting?

If you can’t attend a board of education meeting you can still access the YTD budget reports via the CCPS Board Docs portal. Board Docs could be your favorite tool for researching the current events in the school system. Meeting agendas and supporting documents are posted on the site in advance of the meetings and other documents (mostly personnel-related) are posted after receiving board approval. Here’s a link to the FY 2016 Budget Update from the Feb. 8, 2016 meeting.

What types of supporting documents are posted on the CCPS website?

Aside from the budget updates, you can also find reports supporting purchasing activities, like bids and contracts on the website.

Here are a few examples:

Natural Gas Supply Contract–CCPS joined with large employers in Elkton to negotiate natural gas prices as a group

Dump Truck Purchase–CCPS purchased a used truck, previously owned by Cecil County Government, at auction. (Pause for a minute to let that sink in. The truck was supposedly too old for the county to keep but the school system had to buy it at auction. You would think there would be a way to transfer a cast-off vehicle between county agencies but that doesn’t appear to be the case.)

Medical Claim Audit Services–CCPS secured an outside auditor to review medical claims for FY 2014 and 2015 and evaluate them against industry and contractual standards. Such an audit is prudent because health care expenses for current and retired employees are one of the biggest line items in the CCPS budget.

Transparency of Cecil County Public Schools’ Test Results

I’ve also heard people calling for transparency with Cecil County’s test results. Fortunately for them, the Maryland Department of Education has already taken care of this by publishing test results, demographics, and other statistics for each local education agency (LEA) in the state on its Maryland Report Card website. There’s enough data here to keep you busy for days.

Pushing for more transparency makes a nice quote in the paper but the reality is that the information is already out there–just waiting for you to start sifting through it.

Prepare to Vote in the Primary 4/26/16

If you believe a strong school system is the foundation of a thriving community, please do your own research about the candidates in the upcoming primary election and come out to vote.