Transparency is always good. Where there’s a lack of information, there’s room for questions. Opacity breeds suspicion.
In that sense, an effort by the Riverside-Brookfield High School Board of Education to insist that booster and other parent groups divulge financial and other information on independent websites furthers the goal of transparency.
However, we get the feeling that there’s more than transparency on the minds of some board members as they go about mandating new rules for parent groups. And, frankly, we wish they’d come out and say what that is.
Part of the rationale for the new financial reporting requirements, according to Mike Welch, the board member spearheading the cause, and John Keen, a board member in support of the measure, is to restore the trust of the community in RBHS.
“We’ve totally lost public trust,” Keen said. “This might be going a little too far, but I think we need to go a little too far, or err on the side of going too far, if we’re going to regain that trust.”
A question we’d ask is, “Who is ‘we’?”
Because certainly it wasn’t the Patrons Council or the RB Educational Foundation that lost the public trust. And while several years ago there were complaints in some quarters about the Booster Club’s tax status and a questionable donation it made to the 2006 referendum campaign, the public’s “trust” of the Boosters was never a critical community issue.
RBHS had trust issues all right – in the school board and the school’s top administrator. And voters responded to those concerns in 2009 and 2011. But the school board majority that resulted from those elections is misreading the situation here, we believe.
They weren’t elected to start cracking down on groups of parent and community member volunteers who donate their time to raise money to help further education opportunities for students and teachers.
Just what is it about these groups that has the school board so on edge? What, exactly, are they doing that has aroused the board’s suspicion? If some school board members believe there are accusations to make, why don’t they make them?
Nonprofit groups like the Boosters and the Educational Foundation are required by state law to file annual financial reports with the Illinois Attorney General. Those reports are available on the attorney general’s website.
Should the groups be required to follow state laws and show proof that they are registered appropriately as nonprofits? Absolutely.
Unfortunately, this attempt by the school board to exercise additional control over these nonprofit groups gives the impression that, in fact, the school board as a first instinct does not trust those groups or their motives – or that they have personal grudges that they’d like to settle by making it just difficult enough for the groups so some of the people involved in them might walk away.
The RBHS school board has plenty on its plate dealing with the ongoing issues over the budget and maintaining academic excellence in the face of those concerns. If the board is looking to regain “trust,” going after parent groups strikes us as a tone-deaf exercise.