My column is online and in print in the Washington County Daily News. Here’s a part of it:
This is where Michigan comes in. For reasons not germane to this column, I recently followed the debate for a school bonding proposal (what Wisconsinites would call a school referendum) in Ludington, Mich. They were voting on whether or not to borrow and spend $101 million in a district with a $21 million annual budget. Much of the debate would have been very familiar to Wisconsinites who have been considering referendums, but in researching the district, one can go to the Ludington Area Schools’ website and find a wealth of information.
Right on their website, the school district publishes the complete operating budget, various charts showing how money is spent, each of the full collective bargaining agreements, the health care benefits plan, fiscal audits, compensation packages for employees earning over $100,000, association dues paid by the district, employee reimbursements, amounts spent on lobbying, their deficit reduction plan, the credit card policy, expenses for out-of-state travel for administrators, and other required notices. All of this information is current, detailed, and gives the public a clear view of how the district is managed.
Of course, Ludington is not unique. One can find this information on the website of any school district in Michigan because it is required by state law. Specifically, Section 18 (2) of the Public Act 94 of 1979 requires that school districts publish this information for the public to see.
Wisconsin should follow Michigan’s lead and require that local units of government publish this kind of relevant information on their websites. All of this information already exists in a digital format that could easily be distributed to the public for virtually no cost and minimal effort. This is the kind of information that voters need to be able to make rational, informed decisions about the functioning of their local governments. Come to think of it, state lawmakers should include state government in making this kind of information readily available.