From running classrooms to maintaining schools, educating students is costly and requires many supplies. Districts issue some employees credit cards to make purchasing items easier.
Looking through those credit card records reveals how careful a district is with record keeping and the tech savvy of its business office. Digging through data can show how much was spent on books, cafeteria trays or a principal’s travel.
I asked for six months of credit card records and receipts from nine south metro school districts. Five let me in to look through data at no charge, in keeping with Minnesota’s data practices act.
Two — Shakopee and Inver Grove Heights — refused to provide all the requested information, saying they believe cardholders’ names are not public.
Others initially told me gathering data, making copies and blacking out information would cost $300 to $700. Those charges disappeared when I offered to review the documents in person and cited the provision in the Data Practices Act that notes agencies cannot charge for time spent on redactions.
District records I examined in person were organized and in folders. Cardholders were required to submit receipts for all purchases. Most had one or two outlier purchases with no receipt, just a note. In Prior Lake-Savage, Superintendent Sue Ann Gruver lost the receipt from having lunch with a student, but attached a thank-you card referencing the meal.
Prior Lake-Savage officials said they occasionally take credit cards away if employees repeatedly forget receipts.
In West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan, a teacher reimbursed the district for a personal purchase after using her district credit card accidentally.
While Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Lakeville keep records and receipts electronically, paper records are still kept by smaller districts.
And districts have different credit card philosophies. Rosemount encourages employees to use them and puts big expenses, like $315,000 for Advanced Placement exams, on the card. Last year, the district charged $8.3 million and got an $80,000 rebate.