Oct 24 2013

Why the Clark County School District Opened the Book on Its Budget

The new superintendent explains how and why the Open Book portal came together.

The Clark County School District in southern Nevada is the nation's fifth-largest district, home to 357 schools, more than 315,000 students and 38,000-plus employees.

Our top priority is to increase the graduation rate and raise the academic bar for every student in every classroom. But it's also important to ­solidify the public trust, so our ­community knows that every dollar entrusted to us is spent to maximize student achievement, and to create an atmosphere of total transparency that invites our community to take an active part in the educational reform we all want to see.

To that end, we decided to open our books.

The Past Is Prologue

In January 2013, CCSD launched the Open Book portal.

With Open Book, anyone with Internet access can track down ­every penny of our $2.1 billion ­budget. The portal also allows CCSD stakeholders to engage in a real-time dialogue about how our resources are allocated.

The process of developing Open Book was truly a collaborative effort. District officials held meetings with concerned community members and the media to get feedback on what should be included.

Through these conversations emerged three key facts that drove the majority of Open Book's content in its first iteration:

  1. Many of our stakeholders didn't fully grasp what it takes, ­financially speaking, to run a ­district of this size.
  2. The public was unaware of the measures we've taken to keep economic downturn–driven cuts out of the classroom.
  3. The state legislature raided CCSD's capital funds several times in recent years to balance the budget, leaving us concerned about our lack of funds for building maintenance and to build new schools in overcrowded areas.

Sharing Our Story

Reactions to Open Book from leaders both local and national — everyone from Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — have been nothing but positive. Even the U.S. Department of Education weighed in, praising the fact that "the everyday lay person can now see exactly the categories where the district spends its money."

When users enter Open Book, they're treated to a clear and concise infographic that breaks down our budget and compares us with the four largest school districts in the country. We also have provided an easy-to-understand pie chart that outlines how CCSD is funded.

$3.8 million The budget amount CCSD allocated to IT in 2013

SOURCE: Clark County School District's Open Book portal

People who are interested in crunching the numbers can see a ­department-by-department breakdown of expenditures across the ­district, and both employees and the public can submit anonymous ­suggestions on how we can best use taxpayer funds. We are open to ideas on how to save money so we can ­direct more funds to the classroom.

Much like our budget, Open Book is a living thing. As the years progress, we will post comparisons between the current budget and previous ones.

In a time when fiscal accountability is a necessity, my goal is to provide an open and welcome space for the community to participate in our budget process as partners. We believe that Nevadans will invest more in our schools once community members are confident that every dollar is invested with the goal of ensuring the achievement of every student in every classroom, without exception, without excuses.