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School board trustees required by law to report finances
By: Genevieve Curtis EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso County has begun the process of determining how to implement a new state law requiring school board trustees to report their finances to the county.
Creating greater transparency in local school districts is the aim of a law passed earlier in 2013 called House bill 343.
The new law requires all school board trustees in the nine districts in El Paso County submit financial reports to the county.
El Paso County commissioners must figure out how to put the new law into action. It puts school board trustees on the same level as other elected officials in the county, but instead of submitting their financial reports to the Texas Ethics Commission, trustees will turn the information over to the county.
"I think it's a really important measure that takes school boards a step closer to being more transparent and accountable to taxpayers," said El Paso ISD trustee, Susie Byrd.
Commissioners gave the county attorney's office authority to start crafting policies and procedures on just how to put the law into effect. Elected county officials already self-report to the county clerk's office, so County Judge Veronica Escobar said it'll likely be a similar process. "My suspicion is because there is already a policy in place for all elected officials in this building that it will probably replicate what already exists," said Escobar.
Commissioner Vince Perez said local school districts oversee more than a billion in local tax dollars and the public should be given a way to know whether their elected officials may have other financial interests.
But the new law isn't popular with all trustees. Ysleta trustees recently passed a resolution against the new law. In their resolution, trustees cited the fact that state lawmakers never consulted them on the legislation before taking it to Austin, and that the law only applies to El Paso County and no other county in Texas as reasons for their opposition.
But Byrd said she doesn't understand the opposition. "I don't know where it's coming from. It's actually really troubling to me. I think we would expect school boards -- especially in light of all of the corruption charges and convictions -- you would kind of expect them to stand up and embrace these reforms," said Byrd.
While he supports the legislation, Commissioner Sergio Lewis said he too wants to see the law go statewide. "If it's good enough for El Paso than it's good enough for the rest of the state," said Lewis. Byrd said she believes El Paso is setting a precedent for the rest of the state for others to emulate.
"I think it really shows El Paso taking the lead to create change in our community. We had three school districts where you had endemic corruption," said Byrd.
It's a class B misdemeanor if a trustee fails to turn in a financial report. County commissioners hope to have a policy laid out by the end of the year. The law takes effect on Jan. 1.