The Illinois Policy Institute announced last night that School District 86 has received a failing grade when it comes to fiscal transparency. The poor marks come on the heels of a recent audit conducted by the Institute's Local Transparency Project.
According to their website, the group independently audits local government taxing bodies to determine their level of fiscal transparency. The Illinois Policy Institute has developed a 10-point transparency checklist to hold government and elected officials accountable to the citizens and taxpayers, and provide a "best practices" framework to improve government transparency all across Illinois.
"The goal is not to penalize districts with this information but rather to raise awareness of the issues to encourage them to take the necessary steps so that they can raise their scores during the next audit," stated Steve Woodward, a Burr Ridge resident who helped conduct the audit of District 86..
In order to receive a transparency grade of "A", a governing body must score a minimum of 90 points. District 86's audit produced a score of 33.75.
The Local Transparency Project conducts its audits by visiting the public websites of local government taxing bodies and evaluating how much information is posted about the ten categories on their checklist. These categories range from contact information for elected officials and senior administrators to budget data for the past five years. A total of ten points is awarded for each of the ten categories for a maximum score of one hundred.
According to the report, District 86 only received a perfect score in one category, information related to Elected and Administrative Officials. The District received a score of 2 or less in seven of the ten categories.
Woodward stressed why transparency is an issue district residents ought to be very concerned about. "When you consider that 75% of your property taxes go to public education in district 86 and 181 it's not a small amount that these bodies control. I think awareness of how these monies are spent is more important than ever because property tax revenues are a finite source."
Regarding the report, Dr. Nicholas D. Wahl, Superintendent of Schools for District 86 stated, "Tonight was the first time the Board heard about this report by the Illinois Policy Institute and I haven't had an opportunity to read it yet but I look forward to doing so. However, transparency is something we all support which is why we already post our information online."
District 86 is currently embroiled in a controversy surrounding transparency issues involving a board member and unedited district documents. School board member Dianne Barrett filed a lawsuit against the district in July, claiming that she was not allowed to view documents involving special education services. Barrett maintained that it was her fiscal duty as a board member to be able to view that information. The board disagreed and is currently seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out of court.