Where did the money go?


Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 12:13 a.m.

I've researched budgets for years and found no public entity's spending harder to crack than the Alachua County School District's. Its Web site (www.sbac.edu) contained "Budget Highlights," but the colorful charts and snippets gave no clue about actual spending.

I had to dig for details, some of which might trouble the taxpayers. In 2002, for example, Kirby Smith administrators' salaries ranged from $80,000 to $130,000; meanwhile, teachers with 10 years experience averaged in the $30,000s. We also pay thousands annually for car allowances.

Another example: despite having staff lawyers, the District paid over $220,000 for a private firm to negotiate teacher salaries - money that could have gone to teachers. In 2001, the Food Service Division's remodeling exceeded $100,000, including staff table-and-chair sets from $2,866 to $4,669 a piece.

Our school district gets more than $250 million dollars a year. The taxpayers deserve to know details about at least the following, without cumbersome hoop-jumping:

1. Personnel salaries and perks.

2. Capital expenditures, such as buildings and equipment.

3. Student supplies, such as books and computers.

Putting details on the Internet would not be hard because turning spreadsheets into Web pages is simple these days. Doing so might also save money in the long run, given that filling public-records requests is costly (e.g., man hours and paper).

Florida espouses open government, and so should our school district. Without concrete spending information, parents and taxpayers cannot effectively participate in school system decisions. This is an election year, and I urge citizens to voice their discontent now.

Deborah Cupples,

Gainesville

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