Pioneer’s Transparency Update: “Sunshine Week” Edition

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istock,shutterstock,dreamstime,bigstock,fotolia,veer,stockexpert,123rfWith all the scandals that plague the Massachusetts State House, you would think the state legislature would scream reform after getting an “F” as its latest transparency grade from the Sunlight Foundation. Like the Sunlight Foundation, Pioneer Institute has long-promoted better public access to happenings under the Golden Dome, but a heap of work is still needed to disperse the fog that lingers.

So this Sunshine Week, as we reflect on how the lack transparency fosters public mistrust, let’s look back at Pioneer’s transparency work since Sunshine Week 2012.

What “ethics” reform?  

Pioneer attempted to calculate the amount of contributions made to legislators by lobbyists who had a stake in the healthcare cost-containment legislation passed in 2012.  Conclusion: Sadly, the information on reports filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) is inadequate to make any such calculation.  Recommendation: A one-stop shop linking campaign contributions to lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office.

Set Freedom of Information Requests Free!  

Pioneer attempted to obtain a listing of public complaints filed with Secretary of State Galvin’s office that allege non-compliance with public records laws by state agencies and others.  Conclusion: The Secretary kept inadequate records and was unable to provide us with the list.  Resolution: Subsequent to Pioneer’s Boston Herald op-ed on the shortcomings, a listing of complaints prepared by the Secretary’s Office “appeared.” Recommendation: The Secretary of State Office should publish this listing on its website and update it on a regular basis.

The Board of Elementary & Secondary Education’s Blind Eye to Costs.  

Pioneer requested the cost analysis prepared by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to determine how much adopting Common Core national education standards would burden cities and towns. Conclusion: No such analysis existed! The Board overhauled the curriculum framework and exacted a potentially budget-busting unfunded mandate to localities without figuring out the costs.  Recommendation: NEVER do that again (and nix Common Core while at it).

Red rover, red rover, send the documents right over!   

Under public records law, Pioneer had sought to determine how often students are placed on IEP’s based on assessments paid for by school districts and how often they are placed based on independent assessments paid for by parents, after first being rejected by school districts for such services.  Conclusion: The data is costly or near impossible to get.  Recommendation: The processes surrounding the administration of special education services is in need of a thorough review.  Pioneer’s not done with this one.

Pioneer gives you the tools to make government more transparent.

We’ve written about how to compare your school’s performance to other schools in your district and across the state and highlighted the benefit of having online access to spending by comparing teachers’ and toll collectors’ salaries.  Conclusion: It’s good practice to visit Pioneer’s transparency tools MassReportCards and MassOpenBooks on a regular basis. Recommendation: Visit us often!

During the year, we also launched a transparency tool to help citizens see how their city or town stacks up next to its peers and state averages using a downloadable Excel utility the holds data for all municipalities in the states – it’s here at your fingertips.  See how your town rates on spending, crime, fires, taxes, employment, education and many other measures.

Stay tuned – much more to come!  As Justice Brandeis once said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”