Katy joins other districts in posting check register online

Watchdog group says more data should be included

BETTY MARTIN, Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Published 5:30 am, Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Katy school district's recent decision to post its check register on its Web site is part of a trend toward greater transparency in educational governance that is rapidly rolling across Texas, a district spokesman says.

Katy recently joined at least 11 school districts, including neighboring Spring Branch, in posting online check amounts and to whom they are paid.

"We saw absolutely no reason not to be in the leading wave of school districts and state agencies adopting this practice," district spokesman Steve Stanford said in an e-mail.

But a taxpayer advocacy group, Katy Citizen Watchdogs, suggests that more details are needed in the listing.

"Our next step will be to follow the (Texas Education Agency's) lead and ask KISD to post a description of each check," said A.D. Muller, political director for that organization.

A call to the office of Robert Scott, TEA's associate director, confirmed that the agency is deciding whether to add descriptions to the check listing it began posting Feb. 1 at www.tea.state.tx.us/tea/check/

State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, wrote House Bill 2560, which has been filed but not yet sent to committee. The bill would make it mandatory for public school districts to register checks online.

Katy's Web site at www.katyisd.org contains a monthly check listing that can be accessed through the home page by hitting "About Katy ISD," "Reports, Audits, Check Register," then "Monthly Register." The listing has been posted for about a month, Stanford said.

The register was posted without announcement by the district. During a Feb. 26 board meeting, Superintendent Leonard Merrell responded to a Watchdogs member's request that Katy consider posting the register by saying the district had already done so.

About 60 January checks ranging from $9.50 to Demetrio Sanabria to $142,000 to Xpedient Educational Solutions are available for viewing now, with February checks due to be posted the middle of this month, Stanford said.

"We will probably get a routine schedule going as we move forward," Stanford said. "As people start looking at the check register, not everything in there are taxpayer dollars."

Products used in school or club fundraisers such as Papa John's Pizza, doughnuts, etc., are paid from a district "bucket" account, Stanford said, and repaid to the district by the group raising the money.

"What happens is, you'll see the check (listed) on the check register, but the actual funds came from people's accounts," Stanford said.

Watchdogs co-founder Kevin Tatum said that while members of his group "were thrilled" that Katy posted the register online, he questioned the timing.

"(Education finance blogger) Peyton Wolcott's Web site at www.peytonwolcott.com/ has also put tremendous pressure on public school districts across Texas to be more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers. The school district felt the pressure and decided that it was a good idea after all," Tatum said.

Questions about Xpedient, along with inquiries about Katy Superintendent Leonard Merrell's qualifications and two 2006 bond elections were the most frequently asked questions in 2006 under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, said Christina Crockett, public relations manager for Katy's communications department.

She said that of the 187 requests for information last year, 29 each — the highest number — were from Katy Citizens Watchdogs members, requests for directory assistance and from members of the media.



It was also noted that this article was written during "Sunshine Week."  The American Society of Newspaper Editors has declared this week as Sunshine Week, an annual national program that highlights the public's right to know about how governments work and how the public can participate in government.  For information about the program, visit www.sunshineweek.org/  Sunshine Week in 2017 is March 12  to March 18 .  Here is the link to the site that promotes it:  http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/

Hopefully, someone in Katy ISD will make note of its existence.