Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada believes you can’t judge a book by its cover – at least not if that cover is on the district’s budget book. And so, in the interest of transparency, accountability and communication, that is one cover that has been entirely removed.
On January 14, CCSD Superintendent of Schools Dwight D. Jones pulled back the curtain to unveil a new look at the inner workings of the district’s budget. Jones directed that his district’s website post the kind of budget information that others might reserve for closed-door meetings.
But now, with the CCSD website’s new “Open Book” section, the Greater Las Vegas community has a virtual seat at the superintendent’s conference table.
Jones explained why the change was needed. “There wasn’t a clear, consistent way to show where we were spending our resources and what kind of a return we were getting on our investment,” he said. “I wanted to build a better trust with the community and kind of put my money where my mouth was in being more transparent.”
The difference is visually dramatic. The everyday lay person can now see exactly the categories where the district spends its money, then click on that category to find a further breakdown of cost. “You can see how every dollar is allocated, and we provide simple comparisons to other districts our size,” Jones said.
But it is not only the district that sees the improvement in communication. “The new, Open Book presentation [of the school-district budget] is a lot more intuitive, so you can get to data quickly and easily,” said Cass Palmer, President and CEO, United Way of Southern Nevada. “I think transparency in any form of government is imperative. It focuses on ‘Here are the dollars, here are the numbers, you know what you’re spending.’”
The dollars are readily accessible on the district’s website. And the numbers add up to tell a story. “I think when people see how this district ranks in administrator expenditures per student, people will be surprised. They’ll see that 89 percent of our resources go to educators’ salaries and benefits, and that will be a surprise,” Jones said. “We want to break down myths.”
Naturally, good communication is a two-way street, which Jones recognizes. “We also have a place [at the Open Book portal] where you can give your feedback. The schools ultimately belong to the public. And the public should have a way to be part of the dialogue about how we’re doing our funding.”
You can explore the Clark County School District’s innovative website portal by going to: http://ccsd.net/district/open-book/
Joe Barison is the director of communications and outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.