Don’t hide budget data

On May 21, voters will head to the polls to decide on the 2013-14 budgets for their respective school districts.

As local boards of education adopt the budgets they will send to voters, we’d like to remind districts about the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Effective Feb. 2, 2012, public bodies are required by state law to make available the information they discuss during a public meeting. That applies to records available under the Freedom of Information Law as well as proposed resolutions, laws, rules, regulations and policies.

This amendment came about because members of the public can’t follow discussions at public meetings when they don’t have the documentation being reviewed by board members. The law helps the public understand the discussion.

The Gloversville Board of Education adopted a budget proposal for the 2013-2014 school year April 15, but it did not provide the newspaper with a copy of the budget until the next day, despite a reporter’s requests. Under state law, all budget documents, including drafts, are public information and should be available to the press and public either at or before the meetings. The state recommends schools and municipalities post documents to be discussed at meetings online beforehand.

Even some Gloversville school board members were unhappy with the district’s handling of the budget process. They said they weren’t given adequate time to review the budget proposal before voting on it, let alone enough time to hear from their constituency.

The board voted 5-3 for the budget. Board members Joe Andrews, Mike Hauser and Frank Carangelo voted against the proposal.

“This could be the best budget ever, and I don’t argue that, but we haven’t had the chance to discuss it,” Hauser was quoted as saying in an April 16 story in The Leader-Herald. He said the board received the budget late Friday (April 12) and was put in a situation to vote on it the following Monday, leaving little time to review the plan.

Gloversville isn’t the only school district that limits access to budget documents before they are approved. Other schools and municipalities have done the same thing.

Taxpayers and residents shouldn’t stand for it. The information should be easily accessible before public officials make their decisions. In an age when iPads and smartphones are used as learning tools in the classrooms, and schools are adapting to technology for instruction, why can’t all districts put electronic copies of their budget proposals on their websites?