GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s called spin control.

Where do your dollars goWhen you know bad news is about to break, and it might make you look pretty bad, you try to mitigate the damage by offering denials and excuses in advance.

Officials at the Green Bay Area Public School District have it down to a science.

EAGnews recently sent an open records request to the school district, asking for copies of all credit card statements and the check registry for the 2011-12 school year.  A report will be released next Thursday, based on the findings.

Green Bay school officials aren’t waiting for the report. On Wednesday they issued a press release, seeking to discredit EAGnews and spread doubt about the legitimacy of the spending investigation.

The old-fashioned term for their current strategy is “kill the messenger.” It sort of makes you wonder what they’re so worried about.

“As a public institution we fully support the public’s right to seek information and ask questions about all aspects of our operation,” the press release said. “However, we question the timing and the intentions of an out-of-state political group, paid by proponents of voucher expansion, taking advantage of open records laws to review the district’s spending.”

“It would be our preference not to spend additional time responding further to this request from an outside group whose intention appears to be an attempt to try to embarrass us in order to satisfy a political agenda.”

There would be no way to embarrass the Green Bay district over its spending habits if all recorded expenditures are legitimate and excusable. That will be up to the public to determine.

As for the district’s “preference not to spend additional time responding further to this request,” – oh well. The Green Bay school district is operated with tax dollars, and everyone has a right to know how it spends those dollars.

Holding schools accountable

Our records request was not an effort to pick on the Green Bay district. We’ve been seeking similar information from school districts throughout the nation for the past year, resulting in many eye-opening stories about wasted tax dollars.

For instance, one story revealed that the Palm Beach County, Florida school district spent more than $685,000 at hotels around the nation, more than $335,0000 on air travel, more than $100,000 on pizza, more than $94,000 for a frozen beverage product and more than $93,000 on charter bus tours – all in one school year.

Those stories can be accessed at the “Where Your School Dollars Go” archive at EAGnews.org.

Now we’re taking our effort to Wisconsin. We’ve been inspecting financial records from several districts throughout the state and will be publishing stories in coming weeks about each district, including Green Bay, Madison, Kenosha and Appleton. A fifth story will include spending information from several other districts.

Our strategy is not to embarrass anybody. We simply want to look at spending records that rarely draw the attention of the media or public, to detect how school districts are spending tax dollars. Many districts have rather lax oversight over credit card use, which makes outside investigations even more important.

A lot of big expenditures we find are pretty common, and pretty questionable. A good example is travel. The districts say it’s important to send staff to professional conferences around the nation. But the travelers are often lodged at five-star hotels and run up big restaurant tabs.

We’ve posed the question more than once – in an era of tight budgets, is there a more economical way for educators to pursue professional development?

We’ve been extremely responsible about this project. In every case we’ve given school officials an opportunity to explain various expenditures before we publish our stories.

We recently contacted Green Bay school officials, to give them a chance to explain their spending habits. They finally responded with an emailed explanation, after sending out their press release.

Be sure to check out our story on Green Bay school spending next week. Based on the advance reaction of school officials, it’s bound to be pretty interesting.

Ashleigh Costello contributed to this report

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