Thursday, March 22, 2007

Posting School Check Registers

Peyton Wolcott is an activist and author involved in school reform. Her website is here.

She has a quote on her website that only those of us with “the education bug” can truly appreciate:

The writer Joan Didion and her late husband John Dunne were in the curious habit when they traveled of dropping in on courtrooms to get the tenor of an area.

I do this, too, except instead of courtrooms I sit in on school board meetings, …

This can certainly be viewed as commitment to education, although some might consider it borderline insanity! As one who has done it, I consider it both! :-)

Anyway, Payton is on a mission to help persuade school districts to post their check registers online.

I thought it was a great idea, and suggested at the March 12 board meeting that Rochester Community Schools post theirs online too. It’d be easy for the district, because the register is already produced electronically for board members. It would answer questions that have been raised from time to time by community members. And, most importantly, it would show the district’s commitment to being open with the community.

When I offered the suggestion, all I heard was “crickets”. No response from other board members.

However, I was quite surprised and impressed when I received an answer back from the district administration. They did consider the suggestion, and have a very legitimate concern regarding HIPPA laws.

The American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, is the law that governs medical documentation, records handling, and privacy issues. It includes rules about authorized uses and disclosures of “individually-identifiable” health information.

The district self-insures its employees for health care, and issues checks for healthcare related expenses, in some cases directly to hospitals for patient services. Making this information publicly available might be considered a violation of HIPPA laws.

Our district administrators should be commended for making a good-faith effort to consider the suggestion.

Despite this concern, there are probably extra steps the district could take if the board felt that posting the check registers online was a worthwhile effort. One simple solution would be to create a separate checking account for health care payments. Another would be to use a service to process any health care payments, and just make a single payment to that service.

At this point, it would take interest from a majority on the board to justify any further investigation into these, or other options.

I honestly don’t know if other board members view this a responsible step towards open government, or instead believe it would turn into another irritating way for that pesky public to stick their noses into “their” business.

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