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San Diego School Districts More Transparent Of Construction Bond Programs, Report Finds

The outside of the Board of Education building for the San Diego Unified School District is shown in this photo, March 24, 2016.
Katie Schoolov
The outside of the Board of Education building for the San Diego Unified School District is shown in this photo, March 24, 2016.

Most school districts in the region have improved the transparency of their construction bond programs, but there remains ample room for improvement, according to a report released Thursday by the San Diego Taxpayers Educational Foundation.

Seven school districts earned perfect scores on transparency — the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego Community College District, Cajon Valley Union School District, San Dieguito Union High School District, San Diego Unified School District and Southwestern Community College District.

The San Diego Taxpayers Educational Foundation began the annual transparency ratings in 2013, after numerous school bond measures were approved by voters around the county a year earlier. The transparency scorecard only looks at the information that's available to public scrutiny, not whether the bond program is effective.

"Taxpayers deserve a full accounting of how well school districts are managing their dollars, so they can evaluate whether they're keeping promises made to earn their vote," said San Diego County Taxpayers Association President and CEO Haney Hong. "School districts that are transparent about their spending are in a better position to earn voters' trust in the future."

Districts are rated on the accessibility and timeliness of key reports and information on their bond programs, including lists of project descriptions, progress and itemized expenditures; Independent Citizens Oversight Committee members, contact information and committee vacancies; posting of Independent Citizens Oversight Committee meeting agendas and minutes; bond fund annual reports and annual audits; and archives of annual reports.

"We're pleased to see how many school districts were able to earn perfect scores this year," Hong said. "Our hope is that districts that continue to lag on their transparency record will use our scorecard to motivate and guide improvements for next year."

According to the foundation, failure to post additional meeting materials online and include additional recommendations in an auditor's report remains a concern.

The foundation recommended that districts regularly update information on their Independent Citizens Oversight Committee website, including posting up-to-date audits and financial reports; make all meeting materials available on the ICOC website, not just agendas and minutes; have performance audits conducted by auditors with demonstrated knowledge in project management and construction industry best practices to ensure proper evaluation; and model their oversight committees after the best established and most transparent ICOCs.