School Financial Data to be Added to Pennsylvania's Academic Performance Website

The feature, dubbed SchoolWATCH, will provide all Pennsylvania public schools' financial data, such as spending, revenue and professional staff salaries, the state's Education Department spokesman said.

by Tory N. Parrish, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / January 14, 2015

(TNS) -- The state Department of Education's plan to add school district financial data to an academic performance website bodes well for government transparency, but it does nothing to prevent faulty comparisons of district performance, a local superintendent said Tuesday.

“I think the point that will bother me is it will become a tool for people to compare school districts and, you know…you're not comparing apples to apples,” West Mifflin Area School District Superintendent Daniel Castagna said.

On Wednesday, state Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, plans to host a news conference at the Capitol to demonstrate a new school financial data feature, dubbed SchoolWATCH, on the state's School Performance Profile website, which lists academic performance scores for public schools in the state.

Christiana could not be reached for comment.

SchoolWATCH will provide all Pennsylvania public schools' financial data, such as spending, revenue and professional staff salaries, Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said.

The data already exist in various places on the Education Department's website, but on the School Performance Profile website, the information will be in one place and help the public more easily access information about how tax dollars are spent, he said.

“The department believes in transparency,” he said.

SchoolWATCH is modeled after legislation that Christiana proposed in the previous legislative session. It is similar to PennWATCH, a state government accountability website started in 2012.

“Anytime you can get data in front of the public, it's a good thing. The Department of Education's website is kind of tough to navigate,” said Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Castle Shannon.

It cost $315,851 to add SchoolWATCH to the School Performance Profile website, Eller said.

©2015 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)